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Baby-Proofing Tips

Before your baby is mobile, you'll need to think about making your home a safer place for him. Many people refer to this process as "babyproofing," but don't give yourself a false sense of security. There's no substitute for adult supervision. You can't possibly envision and secure everything your child could get into; besides, she needs to explore. Your objective should be to strike a balance between allowing your child the freedom to examine new things and protecting him (and your belongings).

Babyproofing is not a project you can do once and forget about. You need to continually consider your baby's developmental stage. Temperament is also important; parents of an active child, for example, will need to be more meticulous in their babyproofing and more conscientious with their supervision.

The bottom line: no single article can tell every family exactly what they need to do in order to make their house safe. Armed with pad and pencil (remember, the pencil is potentially hazardous to your baby!), get down on your hands and knees, and record all the hazards you see from baby's point of view. Then do whatever it takes to remedy the situation. It may seem like an unnecessarily time-consuming exercise, but your baby's well-being is worth the effort. Here Are Examples of What to Look Out For:

Windows:

Before your child can pull to a stand, you'll need to ensure that she can't fall out of any window. Avoid placing furniture near windows. Install locks that prevent sliding windows from opening more than five inches. And check into whether your local laws will allow you to install window guards.

Stairs:

Some parents prefer to let their child learn as early as possible about climbing up and down. They keep the stairway open and simply remain on guard at every moment. But it's better to install child safety gates at both top and bottom. (If you put the lower gate at the third step, your child can practice climbing without taking a nasty fall.) Safety gates with slats wider than 3 inches should never be used with children. Use common sense: as your baby grows, he may begin to climb on things. If he tries to climb the child safety gate, it's time to teach him about danger or, if possible, to install a door. To avoid baby pushing through a gate and falling down the stairs, a safety gate, at the top of stairs, should be hardware mounted on both ends and limited to swing open in one direction - away from stairs. Make sure that your child safety gate is no more than 3 inches above the floor.

Kitchen:

Use back burners first when cooking and the front only when necessary. Turn pot handles inward, and keep appliances unplugged when not in use. Fold up or remove the kitchen stool. Tie up any cords that baby could use to topple something heavy onto herself. Keep sharp utensils, poisons, and other dangers out of reach. Heavy pantry items, if dropped from even a low shelf, can injure tiny toes, so secure them out of baby's reach, in a high or locked cabinet. Also keep the garbage can out of reach, as well as recycling bins that hold bottles and sharp-edged cans. Because your baby will spend time on the floor, watch what you drop in the kitchen. Raw meat can make her sick, for example, and small objects, such as peanuts, are a choking hazard. Consider using place mats instead of a tablecloth, which baby might grab, pulling dishes or hot food down upon herself.

Bathroom:

There are two obvious dangers here: the tub and the toilet. Since a baby can drown in a few inches of water, always keep the tub dry when it's not in use, and install a toilet lock. Never leave baby unattended in or near the tub. Water from the tap also can be a scalding hazard; It's recommended that your home's water heater be set to no higher than 120º F. Always test the temperature before you put baby into the tub. Drugs, toiletries, and other poisons and choking hazards should be kept in a special locked medicine cabinet. Babies often climb higher than parents envision, and child-resistant packaging, while helpful, should not be considered childproof.

Living Room:

Put bumpers on sharp edges of tables and fireplaces; a beginning toddler can get a nasty bruise! Make sure no one leaves cigarettes or leftover liquor around. Install covers on all unused electrical outlets, and use cord shortener on any cords baby has access to. Lamp cords and other electric cords may be attractive to teething babies but can deliver shocks if bitten or chewed. Shelves within baby's reach should be bolted to the wall so he can't pull them over onto himself. Consider putting away knickknacks until your child's a bit older; many are choking hazards or could cause injury if broken. (Besides, you want to keep keepsakes!)

Bedrooms:

Some dressers can be pulled over, or the drawers can be used as steps. Attaching dressers to the wall and installing locks may be necessary. Don't allow baby access to exercise equipment. Keep toiletries well out of baby's reach; even something as innocent-seeming as makeup can be a choking hazard. Guns should be kept locked away and unloaded.

Other Hazards:

Walkers can be unsafe when used around stairs, pools, and fireplaces.

Drapery cords have been associated with strangulation of children. Tie such cords up high out of baby's reach. If that's not possible, consider getting different draperies while your baby's young.

If your child seems bright, you may be tempted to buy "older" toys for her. Don't. The recommended age takes into account not only a child's developmental ability but also the toy's safety.

Latex balloons are a notorious choking hazard in children up to the age of eight. Mylar balloons, the shiny, metallic kind, are much safer.

To prevent strangulation, remove hood strings from baby's clothing, as well as any other ribbons or cords on baby's clothing near the head or neck. (The strings can catch on furniture, doors, and playground equipment.)

Keep doors to the outside of your home closed and locked with a latch that's high out of baby's reach. Secure sliding doors with a bar.

Automatic garage-door openers can trap and suffocate a child. Make sure you have the kind that automatically reverses direction when it encounters an obstacle.

Safe Sleeping:

Your child will spend more time unsupervised in his crib (if you don't practice the "family bed") than anywhere else. That's why cribs are manufactured according to strict standards.

Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (so baby's torso can't slip between the slats), and the mattress must fit snugly. The drop sides must lower only partway, and they must have a double action latch to prevent accidental lowering. Decorative corner posts must be no higher than 1/16 inch, and a crib must have no decorative cut-outs accessible to the occupant.

Because of the hazard of suffocation, there should be no pillows, extra blankets, plush toys, or puffy bedding in the crib at sleep time. Whatever mattress a baby sleeps on, for naps or at night, should be firm. Infant fatalities have been associated with waterbeds and beanbag chairs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep on their back, not the stomach.

While hand-me-downs are a great way to save money in some areas, such as books and clothing, you should buy only a new crib. A used or older one might not meet today's safety standards, might be missing parts, or might be damaged.

The idea of babyproofing may be intimidating, but there are good reasons for taking the time to do it right. A happy fringe benefit: minimizing dangers and putting away things baby shouldn't touch will reduce the number of times you need to say no. So, when you do say no, your baby will really know you mean it.