When it comes to protecting your children, knowledge is power -- just one tidbit of information can prevent an injury or even save a life. Here's a room-by-room babyproofing guide with easy ways to create safe quarters for your child.

baby in crib
Credit: PhotoAlto/ Matton

Baby's Crib

  • The crib has to be the one place you feel comfortable leaving your child alone, so buy a new one if you can. Used cribs grow rickety as their hardware gets worn down or goes missing, and vintage cribs are likely to have dangerous openings or headboards.
  • Don't hang anything (pictures, shelves) over the crib or the changing table. It's not worth the risk that something could come off and fall on your baby.
  • The exception: You can attach a mobile to baby's crib rail or to the side of the changing table, but remember that it's supposed to be seen and not touched. Most mobiles have strings and small parts, so once your child can push up on his hands and knees (by 5 or 6 months), put them away.
  • Make sure the mattress is at the right height. Most cribs allow you to adjust it. The higher levels make it easier to lift a newborn out of the crib, but they become dangerous when your child is able to pull herself to standing. Around the 6-month mark, move the mattress to its lowest setting.
  • Let baby sleep unencumbered. Don't bundle an infant in blankets or comforters (though a wearable blanket is fine); he can become entangled and unable to free himself. Don't add pillows, quilts, sheepskins, stuffed animals, or dolls to the crib; these can lead to suffocation and/or overheating, which are thought to be two leading causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Always put your baby to sleep on her back, not on her stomach. This practice has significantly reduced the number of SIDS deaths.
  • Whether baby sleeps in a crib, bassinet, or play yard, use the correct sheet. Making do with a crib sheet in the bassinet or a twin sheet in the crib means you won't have a snug fit and baby could get entangled.

Baby's Room

  • Never leave baby alone on the changing table. It may seem low to you, but for an infant, a fall from a changing table can be like a fall of several stories for an adult. If you forgot an outfit or diaper cream in another room or if you need to go wash your hands, pick your child up and take her with you.
  • Install window guards. You want them there long before the day your child figures out how to climb onto the ledge. An insect screen is not enough to prevent a child from falling through an open window. Get the kind of guard that attaches with screws to the frame (such as the Guardian Angel from One Step Ahead, $50-$100 depending on size; 800-274-8440 or onestepahead.com). As an alternative, buy stops that keep the window from opening more than 4 inches.
  • Keep furniture away from windows.
  • Use anti-tip (security) restraints. These pieces of hardware come with most baby furniture (and are available through One Step Ahead), so use them. They keep a bookcase, for instance, from toppling if your child climbs on it.

The Bathroom

  • Test the water before bathing baby. Use a bath thermometer to be sure you're at 90 to 100 degrees F., or stick in your elbow (it's more sensitive than your hand). The water should be comfortably warm.
  • Stay vigilant! Don't let anything interrupt bathtime. The phone's ringing, or someone's at the door? Ignore it. It only takes a second for a tragedy to occur when water is involved, so stay within arm's reach and forget the outside world.
  • Don't use a baby bath seat. It might seem like a good way to hold a slippery baby in the big tub, but these seats can tip over -- they've been blamed for about 120 drownings and 160 injuries since 1983. If you feel like baby's not safe in the big tub, use a small baby tub.
  • Make sure no one absent-mindedly leaves a razor in the shower or disposes of razor blades or medicines in the bathroom wastebasket. Also, harmless-seeming items such as mouthwash and bath oil can be deadly if ingested in large quantities. Keep them in high, locked cabinets.
  • When your child is old enough to monkey with the tub or sink faucet, you'll want to prevent accidental scalds. Make sure the water heater for your house or apartment building is set to go no higher than 120 degrees F.

Little Helpers

For a huge selection of outlet covers, corner guards, toilet locks, and things you've maybe never even thought of, see the safety aisle of Babies "R" Us. Childproofing supplies are also sold by mass merchants and online at onestepahead.com.

The Kitchen

  • Stay in the kitchen while you're heating food. Cooking was the leading cause of fire injuries in 2005, the most recent year for which there are statistics. Staying near the stove while the burners are on means you can attack a fire with a fire extinguisher and call 911 immediately if needed. Also, keep all your smoke alarms in working order.
  • Use stove-knob covers to keep your child from turning the burners off and on.
  • Secure the trash can. Most kids go through a phase of being fascinated with garbage. It's mostly just a nuisance, but it can be dangerous if your child takes things out and finds, for instance, a sharp metal lid. Look for a childproof latch, keep the garbage in a locked cabinet, or put the can outdoors (such as on a porch off the kitchen).
  • Don't store cleaners under the sink. Keep them in a higher cabinet with a lock, separate from food. Lock up matches too.
  • Place baby's seat on the floor only. Your instinct may be to put a bouncer, car seat, or foam seat at eye level (say, on a counter), but that means risking a bad fall.
  • Use caution with your morning coffee; don't carry a hot drink and your baby at the same time.
  • Letting kids play with pots and pans is free entertainment, sure, but they're more likely to reach for a pot of boiling water if they used the pot as a drum yesterday. It's better to keep a few real toys in the kitchen.

Family Rooms

  • Make sure your TV can't tip. Never place it on top of a unit with drawers -- a toddler may pull them out and attempt to climb, tipping everything over. If the TV is in an entertainment center, the whole unit should be secured to the wall with anti-tipping hardware. If you keep the TV on a stand, make sure it's specifically designed to hold a TV. Push the TV far back on the stand.
  • Keep wires out of reach. Use a covered power strip to keep your child away from them.
  • Walkers increase a baby's exposure to hazards. Use a stationary activity center when you need hands-free time, and you won't have to save your speed racer from, say, pulling down a tablecloth and everything on it.
  • Buckle your child into a baby swing; don't rely on the tray to hold her in it. And don't move a swing, bouncer, or activity center while the child is inside.
  • Stools tip. Don't sit a child on one until he knows the danger of sitting on a stool and pushing his feet against a counter.

Safe Spaces

Pressure-mounted gates (which won't put holes in your walls) are safe only in flat areas away from staircases. Gates are better looking than they used to be; try Summer Infant's Sure and Secure Deluxe Walk-Thru Gate ($60; summerinfant.com).

Copyright © Used with permission from American Baby magazine.

American Baby