Be picky about toy purchases. By law, toys for kids under 3 can't pose a choking hazard. However, it's still important for parents to inspect them. Look for small, removable accessories or parts that can easily break off, says Debra Holtzman, author of The Safe Baby.
Use the toilet paper roll test. If a toy or a piece of a toy is small enough to fit inside an empty toilet paper roll, it could block your baby's airway. Toss it out or put it away until she's older.
Beware of the button battery. Each year, more than 2,800 children in the U.S. are treated in an emergency room after swallowing coin-size lithium batteries, which can be found in some electronic devices, such as remote controls, watches, key fobs, musical greeting cards, and flameless candles, says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "Too often, gadgets containing small batteries, which can be easy to open, are left within reach of young children. Little kids are curious. They put everything in their mouth."
Battle bacteria and foodborne illness. Infants have an immature immune system, so always wash your hands before mixing formula, pouring expressed milk, or feeding him solids. Dump any formula or milk that's left over after a feeding to avoid the spread of bacteria from Baby's mouth. Same for solids: Toss any food his utensil touched.
Heat up meals with care. Warm bottles in a bowl of hot water, not the microwave, which can create hot spots that can scald Baby's mouth. Nuking jarred baby food is risky, too, so spoon the contents into a bowl first. When it's heated, stir and let it stand. Before serving, sample it with a separate spoon. (Test milk or formula simply by sprinkling it on the back of your hand.)
Introduce solids one at a time. Wait two to three days between giving him new foods to see if any signs of an allergic reaction crop up, including diarrhea, vomiting, hives, or a rash. Be aware of the eight foods that cause about 90 percent of food allergies in kids: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. If you notice any suspicious symptoms after serving them, call your pediatrician.
Recognize choking-risk foods. About 34 children per day are treated for nonfatal food-related choking accidents, a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports. Kids under 2 are most vulnerable. The riskiest foods are round or cylindrical (a whole grape), have a texture that conforms to the airway (peanut butter), or are the size of your babe's upper airway (about the width of a hot dog). Also on the list: nuts, seeds, marshmallows, raw carrots, apples, and popcorn. For Baby's meals, cut food into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Cook veggies until supersoft, and give your baby tiny tastes of foods like PB.
Don't take your eyes off her. Drowning is a leading cause of death among children, and with infants under a year, it most often happens in the bathtub. "Babies can drown in as little as an inch of water," says Kate Carr, of Safe Kids Worldwide. So have what you need ready, and if you leave the room, take Baby.
Shield him from scalding. Your child's sensitive skin is susceptible to burns. Set the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees F, and retrofit your tub faucet with an antiscald device that automatically reduces the water flow to a trickle if it gets too hot, Carr says. Infants are comfiest in a bath that's 98 to 100 degrees F. Give the water a feel with your wrist or elbow before plunking him in.
Remember: Location is everything. It's safest to keep a hand on your baby at all times, and using a plastic basin may make that easier, says Nychelle Fleming, public affairs specialist for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Once your tot's sitting up on her own, shimmy her as far from your tub's faucet as possible, so she's unlikely to bang her head on the fixture. Face her away from the tub's knobs so she won't be tempted to turn them.
Get a good grip. Your babe's freshly scrubbed body is slippery -- more than you'd imagine. To lift him out of the tub, dry your hands and use a towel to hold him in your arms.
Lock up everything. When scrub time is over, empty any standing water from the tub and close the door to the bathroom, Carr says. And don't forget the toilet. Keep the lid closed or use a toilet-seat lock for the best protection.
Find room in the budget for a crib. Get one that was built after June 2011, when new federal rules upped the safety standards. Cribs now undergo more rigorous testing; have stronger slats, mattress supports, and hardware; and have stay-put railings rather than a traditional drop-side, which can disengage and trap a child.
Adopt this motto: Less is more. Suffocation is the leading cause of accidental death in children under age 1, and 70 percent of accidents occur in bed. Limit the crib to a firm mattress and a fitted sheet -- no bumpers, sleep positioners, pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, or other loose bedding.
Put her to sleep on her back. No matter what your mom did, your babe should be placed on her back. Once she begins rolling over, she can stay the way she lands, but you should still put her on her back at bedtime until age 1.
Don't add too many layers. Overheating can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). You can bundle your cutie in one layer more than you're wearing, tops. If he's sweating or feels hot, change him.
Do a quick check for cords. At home or away, make sure there are no cords -- from a monitor, sound machine, or window coverings -- dangling anywhere near where Baby sleeps or plays. They pose a serious strangulation risk.
Take time to train. Whether you're using a teenager or your mom, make sure she knows the latest in basic first aid and CPR. Register her for a course at a local hospital or the American Red Cross. Before she starts, have her shadow you, so she can see the way Peanut likes to be held, how to prepare solids, and the right way to put Baby to sleep (on his back).
Be emergency-ready. Post important numbers on your refrigerator or in another prominent spot. Besides 911, list numbers of your pediatrician, hospital, and poison control. And include your home address. In a crisis, your sitter may go blank on your exact street address when she's asked for it by an operator.
Enforce these habits. While driving with Baby, no texting or any mobile use, even hands-free. At home, limit personal calls, and don't open the door to strangers or allow friends over without permission. Even if the baby is taking a nap, no sleeping, unless it's an overnight job.
The rules: Swing your child in a straight front-to-back motion (no twisting the chains!). On sunny days, check that any equipment is cool enough before you plop your little one on it. And never whoosh down the slide with Baby in your lap. (If her shoe gets caught, your weight coming down behind her could break her leg.) Let her explore her turf, but always wearing shoes to avoid injury.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.
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