Babyproofing 101: 10 Household Safety Hazards
You'll be shocked at the hidden dangers in your own home. Don't skip our checklist of 10 safety hazards that could be deadly.
Dishwashers and Balloons
The danger: They give young children easy access to sharp knives and forks, and the racks have pointy spikes that can hurt your baby if she falls on them. Dishwasher detergent can also irritate your child's skin and eyes and can burn the lining of her mouth and esophagus if she swallows some. "It's extremely corrosive and dangerous," warns Parents advisor Ari Brown, MD, author of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year.
Safe strategy: Make sure your child isn't underfoot when you're loading or unloading the dishwasher. Point knives, forks, and other sharp items downward in the utensil basket. Don't fill the dispenser with detergent until you're ready to run the load, and wipe out any that's left over in the cup after each cycle. Always replace the cap on the bottle tightly, and store it in a locked cabinet. Keep the dishwasher closed and latched when it's not in use.
2. Latex Balloons
The danger: Colorful latex balloons may look great at birthday parties, but since 1973, more than 110 children have choked to death when blowing up balloons or chewing on pieces of balloons. "Latex balloons are one of the worst things to choke on because they can conform to a child's throat and completely block breathing," explains Mariann Manno, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester.
Safe strategy: Buy Mylar balloons instead of latex ones. They come in a wide variety of fun designs and shapes and aren't a choking hazard. Always supervise your child when he's playing with latex balloons, and never allow him to bite on an inflated or uninflated balloon or put pieces of one in his mouth. Don't let him blow up latex balloons until he's 8 years old, and then watch closely to make sure he doesn't inhale one when he takes a big breath. When a balloon pops, immediately pick up the pieces and throw them away. In addition, never let a child play with thin latex or rubber gloves, which pose similar hazards.
Kitchen and Bedding
3. Kitchen Ranges
The danger: You know that your child can get burned if he touches a heating element or a hot pan, but did you know that an improperly installed range can fall forward if he leans on the front of it, or if he climbs on the open oven door? Toddlers have been critically injured when they tipped over a stove and were doused with a pot of scalding water.
Safe strategy: Make sure your free-standing or slide-in range is properly installed with anti-tip brackets that secure the rear legs to the floor. Manufacturers are required to provide these brackets on ranges made after 1991, but you can also contact the company for the parts, or order them from an appliance-parts store. Keep the oven door closed whenever you're not using the oven, and never allow your child to lean on or climb on the range or the open oven door.
4. Soft Bedding
The danger: Fluffy comforters and bumper pads may make a crib look warm and cozy, but soft bedding can mold around your baby's face and suffocate her. Although deaths from SIDS have dropped dramatically thanks to the widely publicized "Back to Sleep" campaign introduced in 1991, as many as 900 infants suffocate in soft bedding each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Safe strategy: Place your baby on her back on a firm mattress covered with a tight-fitting mattress pad and sheet. Don't put pillows, comforters, thick bumper pads, or soft toys in the crib. Keep her warm with a lightweight blanket that's tightly tucked around the mattress, or just dress her in a blanket sleeper.
Baby Gear and Bath Seats
5. Hand-Me-Down Baby Gear
The danger: Used toys and baby equipment may have broken or missing parts, or may not meet current safety regulations. They also usually come without the packaging that gives age recommendations and instructions for safe use. Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, author of The Baby Rules: The Insider's Guide to Raising Your Parents, recalls placing her 12-month-old daughter in a friend's high chair that didn't have the correct safety straps or the bar between her legs. "Before we knew it, she started to slip down, and her head and neck became wedged between the tray and the high chair. Fortunately we caught her in time, or she could have been seriously injured."
Safe strategy: Before using old toys, high chairs, swings, or other hand-me-downs or secondhand items, carefully inspect them for damaged or missing parts. Make sure that strings, straps, and cords are no longer than 7 inches. Visit cpsc.gov to find out whether the item has been recalled and to check it against current safety standards. Don't let your child play with decades-old metal or painted toys, which may contain poisonous lead.
6. Bath Seats and Rings
The danger: Bath seats and rings help a baby sit up in the tub, but they can be a drowning hazard if you leave your baby alone for even a few seconds. The suction cups on the bottom can suddenly release and allow her to tip over, or she can slide between the legs and become trapped underwater. Between 1983 and 2003, 106 babies drowned because they were left unattended in bath rings or seats, according to the CPSC.
Safe strategy: Don't let bath seats or rings give you a false sense of security. Always stay within arm's reach when your baby's in the tub, and make sure her other caregivers do the same. "Bath seats and rings are not safety devices," Dr. Manno says.
Baby Oil and Family Dog
7. Bath and Baby Oils
The danger: Some bath and baby oils contain liquid hydrocarbons, which can cause a serious pneumonia-like condition, irreversible lung damage, and even death if your child aspirates the substance into his lungs. In 2001, 16- month-old Jaiden Bryson, of Bakersfield, California, died 28 days after drinking from a bottle of baby oil that had been knocked off a shelf. His death and similar tragedies led the CPSC to require child-resistant packaging for products containing hydrocarbons.
Safe strategy: Read labels and store all bath and baby oils out of your child's reach, even if they're in child-resistant packaging. (The same goes for other household and cosmetic products containing liquid hydrocarbons or mineral oil, such as some makeup removers, massage oils, and nail-polish dryers.) "Child-resistant caps don't always keep kids out -- they just slow them down," says Karen Sheehan, MD, an emergency-room physician at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago.
8. The Family Dog
The danger: About 100,000 children under age 10 are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year for dog-bite-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of attacks happen at home or in familiar places by a dog that belongs to the victim's family or a friend. In 2000, a 6-week-old infant was killed by her family's Pomeranian when she was left unattended with the dog on a bed. Pet food and pet toys with small parts can also be choking hazards.
Safe strategy: Never leave your child alone with a dog. While pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds are more likely to attack than other breeds are, any dog can become aggressive. Having your dog spayed or neutered can reduce aggressive tendencies. Teach your child to be gentle with dogs and to never tease, corner, or disturb a dog that's eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies. Until your child is 3, don't buy pet toys with eyes, buttons, or other small parts that can be pulled or bitten off. Remove hard dog food when your pet is done eating.
Power Windows and Grandma's Purse
9. Power Windows
The danger: Unsafe car windows cause hundreds of children to lose their fingers or crush their wrists or hands each year, and they've been associated with at least 28 deaths, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit child-advocacy group. If your child puts her head or hand out the window and then accidentally leans on the rocker or toggle switch, the window can close on her.
Safe strategy: If your power windows have rocker or toggle switches, use the lock-out function so your child can't operate them from the backseat. "Before you raise a window from the driver's seat, do a head- and finger-check first," says Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars. Make sure the windows in the next car you buy have switches that must be lifted up to close the windows and also have an auto-reverse function so windows automatically go down if something is in the way. Never leave your child alone in a vehicle.
10. Grandma's Purse
The danger: A grandparent's pocketbook -- or any cosmetic bag, backpack, or suitcase that someone brings into your home or leaves out while you're on a visit -- may contain items that could poison, choke, or injure your child, such as medications, change, hard candy, pen caps, safety pins, nail scissors, and matches. In 2004, a 10-month-old baby died after eating a blood-pressure capsule that he found on his grandmother's coffee table. "It only takes a second for a small child to get into something that's new and exciting while the adults are busy talking," says Bridget Clementi, injury-prevention manager at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.
Safe strategy: When friends and relatives visit, place purses and luggage in a closet or room where your child can't get to them. If you're visiting someone else's house, put your purse out of reach, and watch your child at all times. "Supervision is the key to keeping your child safe," Clementi says.
Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission from the April 2006 issue of Parents magazine.