It's something every parent fears: a loud thud followed by your child's cries. Unfortunately, babies are prone to falls as they develop new motor skills, and they have no awareness of danger. "A baby's brain hasn't matured enough for him to have any judgment about injury risks," says Lois Lee, M.D., a pediatric-emergency-medicine physician at Boston Children's Hospital. While most spills result in mere bumps and bruises, you want to do anything you can to prevent even the most minor injuries. These guidelines will help protect your little one.
1. Stay Close By
It's essential to be within arm's length as much as possible. "If you leave an infant, just for a second, on an elevated surface—such as a table or a bed—she can wriggle off, even if she hasn't started rolling over yet," says Dr. Lee. If your changing table has safety straps, use them, despite the fact that your baby will only be on it for a short time. (You can't rely on straps to stop a fall, so you'll still want to keep a hand on your child.) And if you need to grab something far away, take her with you or put her in a swing, a crib, or a playpen.
2. Soften the Fall
There are a number of different safety precautions you can set up in your home, says Debra Holtzman, author of The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living. Do a thorough walk-through and check that all rugs are nonskid (if not, apply a pad or double-sided tape underneath). Outfit the tub with a nonslip mat; and attach corner and edge guards to tables. Make sure that you leave any baby equipment—such as bouncy seats and swings—on the floor while your little one is using them.
3. Block Off the Steps
Stairs are fascinating to babies because they're mysterious ("What's up there?"), and they're a perfect spot to practice new crawling and climbing skills. Cut off your child's access to them with safety gates. Use hardware-mounted gates—which are bolted to the wall or banister—at the top and bottom of stairs (pressure-mounted ones are less sturdy but can be used at the bottom if necessary). Of course, safety gates won't help if they're not used properly, so keep them closed and locked at all times. In addition, the areas around the gates and stairs should be well lit and clutter-free. You don't want anything nearby that might trip your baby.
4. Prevent Crib Breakouts
By 8 to 10 months, your baby will be able to pull himself up to stand, and he'll be more likely to reach for things near his crib, putting him at an increased risk of falling, says Mary Aitken, M.D., medical director of the Injury Prevention Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital, in Little Rock. Move the mattress to the lowest level. Continue to keep bumpers, stuffed animals, and other objects out of the crib at all times; their presence increases his risk of SIDS, and your baby could use one of them to boost himself over the railing, Dr. Aitken says. You'll also want to keep window cords, mobiles, or any other strangulation hazards out of the way.
5. Watch Your Windows
A child can be seriously injured by falling from heights, so keep windows locked when they're not in use (and if possible, open them from the top instead of the bottom). Avoid placing your crib or other items that your baby could climb on near a window. Also consider installing guards on all windows, and quick- release mechanisms on any that are part of your fire escape plan. (Just be sure to check your local laws, as some cities have laws against guards on fire-escape windows.) A less costly option is a window stop, which prevents it from opening more than 4 inches. Both guards and stops can be found in most hardware and big-box stores. Remember, screens don't offer any protection. "They're designed to keep bugs outside, not to prevent children from falling," says Holtzman.
6. Stay Safe Outdoors
Watch your child extra carefully when she's outside, recommends Dr. Lee. Any decks and balconies you visit should be enclosed with railings or a gate, and you'll need to keep planters, benches, and any other objects your baby could climb on away from the edges. When you go for a walk, make sure she's strapped into the stroller, even if you know she'll doze off immediately. Then relax and enjoy. Getting a little fresh air will be good for both of you!