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Shopping Cart Safety

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Q: Is it safe for my baby to sit in the shopping cart at the grocery store?

A: Thousands of children are hurt every year in the U.S. in accidents involving shopping carts, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). That's why it's best for kids of all ages to stay out of these carts.

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. has no safety standards for shopping carts, says Gary Smith, M.D., director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, and chair of the AAP Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. "There's great variety in cart design, and some carts are quite dangerous," he explains.

Smaller babies may try to wiggle out of shopping-cart infant seats, and older babies who can stand might tip the cart over if they're not properly strapped in, says Denise Dowd, M.D., section chief of injury prevention at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO, and a member of the AAP committee. Babies are also sometimes at risk when an older sibling leans on the handle. "Some carts are so poorly designed that as little as 16 pounds of downward pressure can cause them to flip over," explains Dr. Smith. The most common injuries are bruises, abrasions, and cuts, but fractures to the baby's head and neck can also occur. "The fall onto the hard surface of a store floor is potentially fatal," he says.

Dr. Dowd suggests keeping the baby in a front carrier or backpack so that your hands remain free to push the cart and select groceries. If you're buying only a few items at a time, you can use a stroller and stow your groceries in the compartment underneath.

Dr. Smith advises against using shopping carts, but if you must, make sure your baby is securely positioned with the straps provided. If possible, shop with another adult -- one to gather groceries and the other to stay beside the baby, guarding against accidents. Some stores have begun using carts shaped like animals or cars. Though they're meant for older kids, babies who can sit up on their own are safer in them because they're low to the ground and will prevent a fall from a dangerous height. They're also less likely to tip over because they have a low center of gravity.