Baby Safety Basics for Parents and Caregivers

Keep your baby safe through their first birthday and beyond with these tips, tricks, and pieces of advice.

baby standing next to baby gate
Photo: Getty

If you're worried about your baby's safety, you are not alone. Being a parent is hard, and it's particularly trying to be the parent of a young child—who cannot fend or care for themselves. But don't fret, yet. We are here to help. The following tips, tricks, and advice should help you keep your baby out of harm's way, from birth through their toddler years.

Water Safety

Disaster waiting to happen:

You've just started your child's bath when you realize you've forgotten their washcloth. They look comfy in their 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 and, if you have a swimming pool, install a fence 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 them. 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, and be mindful where you place mugs, bowls of soup or stew, or other hot liquids and/or foods.


Disaster waiting to happen:

Your baby needs a snack, so you toss a handful of grapes onto their 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 their windpipe and choke them. Likewise, keep your child away from bite-size objects and toys with small parts. And be careful around balloons, too. 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 they fall down into an unsafe position. 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 their child's old walker. You've heard bad publicity about walkers, but you're not worried—you'll be watching your baby whenever they're 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. That's because 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 them. Never leave them alone on a sofa or bed, either. 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. Their crib is stocked with stuffed animals, a fluffy pillow, and a cozy quilt, and you can't wait to put them down for a nap.

Playing it safe:

To minimize your baby's risk of suffocation, keep soft toys and bedding out of their crib, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. The safest way to keep your child warm at night is to dress them in a sleeper. Always lay your baby on her back to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. And 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 their car seat next to you. After all, they're safer if you can see them, right?

Playing it safe:

If your car is bumped while your baby is riding up front, the air bag can inflate and strike a crushing blow. A baby should always be in back, but they're not safe even there if their 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 your car's 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 2.
  • The straps should be snug enough that you can fit only one finger between them and their 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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