Keep your baby safe through her first birthday and beyond.

By Barbara Solomon
October 05, 2005
baby holding onto gate on stairs
Credit: Lucas Tiedge/ Jupiter

My husband and I were upstairs watching our kids play one evening when our 10-month-old daughter crawled out of the room. Suddenly, it hit me: The gate at the top of the stairs was unlatched.

"Alyssa!" I screamed, diving down the hall. I grabbed her by the ankle, just inches before she reached the edge of the staircase.

I was lucky, but many parents are not. By following the advice below, you can help keep your baby safe through her first birthday and beyond.

Disaster waiting to happen:

You've just started your daughter's bath when you realize you've forgotten her washcloth. She looks comfy in her bath ring, so you dash to the linen closet.

Playing it safe:

Babies can drown in as little as one inch of water. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, more than half of infant drownings occur in bathtubs. And bath rings don't make tubs any safer -- such devices can tip over, or babies can slip through the leg holes.

The bottom line:

Never leave your baby unattended around water, even for a minute. Put away cleaning buckets as soon as you're done with them. Use toilet locks. If you have a swimming pool, experts recommend fencing that is at least five feet high and has self-closing, self-latching gates.

Burns and Scalds

Disaster waiting to happen:

Your baby likes to play with faucets—and that's cool with you. After all, your water heater is set at 120 F, just as safety experts advise.

Playing it safe:

"That temperature setting means only that your baby won't sustain a third-degree burn," warns Danielle Laraque, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia University and the Harlem Hospital Center. A rush of 120-degree water can still cause plenty of pain.

Other ways to keep your baby from getting burned:

Never carry hot drinks or use the stove while holding her. Turn pot handles inward so you won't bump them and spill hot food. Push coffeemakers and other appliances -- along with their cords -- away from the edge of the counter.


Disaster waiting to happen:

Your baby needs a snack, so you toss a handful of grapes onto his high-chair tray. What could be healthier than fruit?

Playing it safe:

Never serve your baby small, round foods, such as grapes, hot dogs, hard candies, nuts, carrots, raisins, or popcorn -- they can block his windpipe and choke him. Likewise, keep him away from bite-size objects and toys with small parts. Be careful around balloons, and clear away the remains of any that have popped.


Disaster waiting to happen:

Visiting a friend on a beautiful spring day, you set your baby's portable playpen beneath the guest-room window, pull open the venetian blinds, and head to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

Playing it safe:

In the vicinity of a wiggly baby, any kind of string can become a noose. Always tie window-blind cords out of reach. And though baby clothes with drawstrings are now illegal, you may inherit them as hand-me-downs. If you do, tear them up and use them as rags.

Other tips to prevent strangulation:

Strollers, high chairs, and other infant seating can also strangle your baby if she slips down far enough. Crotch straps are designed to keep that from happening. Be sure to use them -- even on a quick trip to the corner store.


Disaster waiting to happen:

A friend has offered you her son's baby walker. You've heard bad publicity about walkers, but you're not worried -- you'll be watching your baby whenever he's in it.

Playing it safe:

Walkers injure up to half of all babies who use them, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. And nearly 80 percent of those infants were supervised when the accident occurred -- walkers roll so fast that there's often no time to intervene. No wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against them. Instead, consider a play center that bounces or swivels but doesn't travel.

Other tips to prevent falls:

Keep stairways gated at the top and bottom. Strap your baby to the changing table, and always keep a hand on her. Never leave her alone on a sofa or bed. Move furniture away from windows.


Disaster waiting to happen:

Your mother is coming to visit. Unbeknownst to you, she recently asked her pharmacist not to use child-safety caps on her pill bottles, since her arthritis makes them harder for her to open.

Playing it safe:

Never assume that a container has a safety cap, says Dr. Laraque -- ask the owner or check it yourself. And since no lid is foolproof, store medications, vitamins, cleansers, and other household chemicals in a high, locked cabinet.

Other tips to prevent poisoning:

Many houseplants pose a poisoning hazard too. Place them out of your baby's reach, and remove any fallen leaves. Keep the phone number of poison control handy, along with a bottle of ipecac to induce vomiting -- but use it only as instructed by your doctor or poison control.


Disaster waiting to happen:

You've brought your newborn home from the hospital. Her crib is stocked with stuffed animals, a fluffy pillow, and a cozy quilt, and you can't wait to put her down for a nap.

Playing it safe:

To minimize your baby's risk of suffocation, keep soft toys and bedding out of her crib, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. The safest way to keep her warm at night is to dress her in a sleeper. But if you prefer a blanket, use a thin one. Place her feet at the bottom of the crib and tuck the blanket snugly under the mattress, making sure it comes up no higher than chest level. Always lay your baby on her back to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

And do keep your baby in the crib, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. According to a recent CPSC study, nearly 600 babies have died since 1990 as a result of sleeping in an adult bed; many were smothered when a parent rolled onto them or when they became wedged between the mattress and a wall or a piece of furniture. Although some child-rearing experts argue that the risks posed by sharing a bed have been exaggerated, the CPSC strongly advises against it.

Car Seat Mistakes

Disaster waiting to happen:

Before taking your newborn for a drive, you install his car seat next to you. After all, he's safer if you can see him, right?

Playing it safe:

If your car is bumped while your baby is riding up front, an air bag can inflate and strike him a crushing blow. A baby should always be in back, but he's not safe even there if his car seat isn't properly secured. A study by the National Safe Kids Campaign found that 85 percent of parents make at least one major error when using car seats. To ensure that your child's is installed correctly, check the car manual as well as the manual for the seat itself.

And remember these tips:

  • Your baby must ride in a rear-facing car seat until at least age two.
  • The straps should be snug enough that you can fit only one finger between them and his chest.
  • The clip should be at armpit level.
  • The seat should be tilted at the proper angle and should move less than an inch when you push it in any direction.

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