Injuries from these devices used to keep young kids safe around the house have nearly quadrupled in the last two decades. Here's how to use them correctly.

By Courtesy of Nationwide Children's Hospital
June 23, 2014
baby holding onto gate on stairs
Credit: Lucas Tiedge/ Jupiter

If you have a baby gate at home, take note: A new study from researchers in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio has found gates can lead to injury if used incorrectly.

The study, published in the May-June print issue of Academic Pediatrics, found that from 1990 through 2010, emergency departments in the United States treated approximately 37,673 children younger than age 7 for baby gate-related injuries--and the rate of injury increased from 3.9 per 100,000 children to 12.5 per 100,000 during the 21 year study period.

More than 60 percent of the children injured were younger than age 2, and they were most often hurt by falling down stairs after a gate collapsed or was left open, leading to soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains, and traumatic brain injuries. Children ages 2 to 6 were most often injured when climbing on the gate, leading to cuts and scrapes.

"Baby gates are essential safety devices for parents and caregivers, and they should continue to be used," says Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., the study's co-author and a principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "It is important, however, to make sure you are using a gate that meets the voluntary safety standards and to make sure it is the right type of gate for where you are planning to use it."

While safety standards issued by the American Society for Testing and Materials have helped decrease baby gate hazards, there's still more that can be done.

"Current standards are voluntary and concentrate on things like the size of the openings, height, vertical strength, bottom spacing, configuration of the uppermost edge, and label warnings," says Dr. McKenzie, who is also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. "While these are important, making them mandatory and adding standards to address designs that limit children's ability to climb gates, prevent gates from collapsing, and provide better cushion to children if they fall on the gate would prevent many of the injuries we saw in our study."

Follow these tips to ensure baby gates aren't hazardous in your home:

  • Use hardware-mounted baby gates at the top of stairways. Gates that only press against walls, called pressure-mounted gates, are not secure enough to prevent falls and should only be used as room dividers or at the bottom of stairs.
  • Install gates in homes with children between 6 months and 2 years of age.
  • If possible, remove the gates when the child turns 2, or when the child has learned to open the gate or climb over it.
  • If removing a gate is not possible because of other children in the home, use a gate without notches or gaps that could be used for climbing.

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