How to Keep Baby Safe at Home
Secure the Nursery
Toss out airborne amusements that have strings longer than 7 inches. Remove even mobiles with shorter strings once Baby can sit up and might be able to reach them.
More than a third of injuries from falls occur when babies tumble from furniture, says a study in Pediatrics. That safety strap is there for a good reason. Buckle up!
"Check that your crib meets current safety standards and has all the right pieces," says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "If the sides go down or you can fit a can of soda between the slats, it's not a safe crib for your baby. Stuffed animals, bumpers, and cute accessories may make a baby's crib seem warm and cozy, but they can do more harm than good. A firm mattress covered with a tight-fitting crib sheet is all you need to make your baby sleep safe and sound."
About half of all crib deaths occur when infants suffocate on bedding -- such as blankets, pillows, and bumpers -- according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). And skip sleep positioners, too; babies can slide off and suffocate.
Batten Down Your Bathroom
Splashing in the tub: good times! However, this room is safe only with supervision. Keep the door shut so Baby can't wander in without you. Tots can drown in just 1 inch of H2O.
Even lotions, oils, and soaps that are made for babies can be toxic if consumed, so stash them far from reach. Keep items that pose a cut or burn risk, such as razors, curling irons, and hair dryers, in a cabinet with a childproof latch.
Childproof packaging isn't enough to keep your kid safe -- little fingers can be nimble! "Secure all vitamins and drugs in a locked drawer or cabinet that's out of reach," urges Joel Clingenpeel, M.D., a pediatric emergency room physician in Hampton Roads, Virginia. "And never refer to any pills as 'candy.'"
A cushioned guard on the spout will prevent bumps, and a skid-resistant pad on the bottom of the tub can stop slips. Also, adjust your water heater to 120 degrees F if you haven't yet done so -- any hotter and Baby could get a burn.
"A curious infant could easily fall headfirst into a toilet and drown," Dr. Clingenpeel says. A potty lock might seem more than a little inconvenient (especially when desperate houseguests call out for your assistance lifting the lid!), but it's definitely worth the bother.
Safeguard the Kitchen
Crawlers can give new meaning to "Hell's Kitchen," so consider gating off this room. Never handle any hot foods, beverages, or pots when your baby is nearby; hot spills cause the majority of scaldings in children ages 6 months to 2 years.
Stove and Oven
"Kids love to reach, so to prevent hot food or liquid spills, use the back burners and turn pot handles away from the edge," says Carr.
Some parents swear by industrial-strength Velcro for securing the door; others rely on a sturdy dishwasher lock. Whichever you choose, point all sharp utensils down in the basket, and fill the detergent dispenser just before you run a load of dishes.
Utensils and Dishes
"Put objects with sharp edges, such as knives, scissors, and dispensers for plastic and foil wrap, out of Baby's reach," Dr. Clingenpeel says. Be sure to use locks or latches on all low drawers and cabinets.
Injuries related to cleaning products keep pediatric emergency rooms busy. "The simple fix is latches, which are easy to install," Dr. Clingenpeel says. Buy cleaners that have child-resistant packaging, and never store them (even those that are environmentally safe) in food or beverage containers.
Check Other Biggies at Home
Remind family and visitors not to leave unsafe toys, as well as purses and bags, lying around. Wind cords so they're short and keep them out of sight. Also place plants out of reach.
"On upper floors, install guards or stops that prevent windows from opening more than 3 1/2 inches," Dr. Clingenpeel says. Window treatments are also hazardous. The CPSC has recalled millions of Roman and roll-up blinds and recommends cordless ones. Can't replace yours? Learn how you can childproof existing blinds, or order free retrofit repair kits at WindowCoverings.org.
Install security gates at the top and bottom of your stairways. "Make sure the gate you get for the top swings only one way. You want it to go inward, toward the floor," says Dr. Clingenpeel. Screw top gates securely into the wall; you can pressure-mount bottom ones.
Instead of plastic plugs, which babies learn to pull out, get sliding or box outlet covers that fit over the entire plate or power strip.
Furniture and TVs
Thousands of kids wind up in the E.R. each year and some die when furniture or a television topples on them, a study in Clinical Pediatrics reports. Injuries due to fallen TVs in particular have increased by 31 percent over the last decade, says Carr, partly because flat-screens are heavy and have a narrow base. "Securing your TV and furniture is an important step in preparing your home for toddlers," says Carr. "Make sure you mount flat-screen TVs to the wall and place large tube TVs on a low, stable piece of furniture. Use brackets, braces, or wall straps to then secure unstable or top-heavy furniture to the wall." Be sure to keep toys off high shelves to curb a child's urge to climb.
Make sure the doors of your fireplace are heat resistant or block off a large area around the hearth. Store matches, lighters, the gas-jet key, pokers, and sharp tools out of reach, and consider a hearth cushion or adhesive padding for sharp edges. There -- safe and sound. Now go have some worry-free fun with your little one.
Stay on Top of Recalls
Baby products are usually designed with safety in mind, but mistakes happen. Look for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) seal on purchases, new or used. Return registration cards so companies can contact you for recalls.
Remember this: Falling is the leading cause of nonfatal injuries among babies younger than a year old -- yes, even before they can walk. Nearly 9,000 infants end up in the E.R. each year when car seats being used as carriers plummet from countertops, beds, and couches, according to a report in Pediatrics. A caregiver tumbling down the stairs while holding an infant is also common. "This usually happens when the parents are rushing to get the phone or carrying something in one arm and their little one in the other," Dr. Joel Clingenpeel says.
Safety steps: When using an infant carrier, swing, or seat, keep your baby strapped in and on a flat, hard floor. If you're carrying a child, have nothing else in your arms. And set up a safe area, such as a play yard, on every level of the house for when you have to rush into another room.
4 Who-Knew Dangers
Because tots explore the world with their mouth, once they're mobile and can grasp small things (usually around 9 months), they're vulnerable to choking on found objects. Look out for the uh-ohs below.
More children have suffocated on broken or deflated latex balloons than any other type of toy. "If your baby gets hold of that gift from the store and sucks on it, it can easily slip into the windpipe and cause a complete obstruction," Kate Carr says. That's why the CPSC suggests keeping balloons well out of reach of unsupervised children for a solid eight years.
Buttons, Batteries, and Magnets
Button batteries, used in toys, remotes, and even greeting cards, can get caught in a child's esophagus and cause serious burns and fatal bleeding. Keep devices containing these batteries out of reach; magnets too. Ingesting two or more batteries, or a magnet and another metal object, can perforate the intestines.
Bags can contain choking hazards (coins, gum, mints) and toxins (nail polish, makeup, medications). "We see kids who have discovered prescription pills -- like blood-pressure medicines -- in a visitor's bag," says Dr. Joel Clingenpeel. Put a lock on the closet by the front door so bags can be secure, or install a purse hook high on an entry wall. Bonus: You'll know exactly where you left it!
Remember this: Your car heats up faster than you think, says Kate Carr. "Young children are particularly at risk as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult's. Whether you are a parent or caregiver, or a concerned bystander, you can protect kids from this preventable tragedy."
Safety steps: Remember to ACT: Avoid deaths by never leaving your child -- even a sleeping one -- alone in a vehicle for any amount of time. Create reminders to ensure that you don't forget to take your baby out of the car when you've arrived. Place something you'll need at the stop (like your purse) on the floor in front of her. If you take your child to day care, set a daily alarm on your phone to confirm you dropped him off. Take action: If you spot an unattended child in a car, dial 911.
Originally published in American Baby magazine in 2013