According to U.S. statistics, approximately 40% of childhood accidental injuries take place in or around the home. Nearly 80% of deaths from accidents in the home occur among children 4 years of age and younger. The primary threats are, in order, suffocation, fire and burns, drowning, choking, falls and poisoning. Firearms are another potential hazard.
Parental vigilance is the first line of defense: you must keep careful watch over your children until at least the preschool years. Another part of your job as parents is to teach children what is and is not safe to touch. The first such lesson is the word ‘no’, which kids can usually understand before their first birthday.
You can also help yourselves and your children by making your home environment safe. Below you will find some tips for baby proofing your house. (See Where to Buy, at the end of this article, for purchasing information.) These are guidelines only. Remember to keep things in perspective. It is easy to go overboard and turn your home into a padded fortress free of the things that you and your older children enjoy most. Deal with the most common hazards before the others, and then decide whether you need to wrap all corners and remove all large furniture.
Suffocation and choking can occur anywhere and are discussed first in this article. General guidelines about poisons and electricity follow. From that point on, common problems in each room of your house are covered. But first, some basics.
- Some people consider the following safety items ‘baby proofing’, but they should really be present in any household.
- Smoke alarms Smoke detectors are an essential part of any fire safety plan. In some jurisdictions you are required by law to install them on every floor of your house. Be sure to change the batteries twice a year.
- Carbon monoxide detectors Monitors are the only way to prevent poisoning from this colorless, odorless gas.
- Fire extinguishers The most obvious place for a fire extinguisher is the kitchen. Workshops and garages are also good locations for them.
Suffocation and choking are the leading causes of death among babies for the simple reason that babies place everything they encounter in their mouths. Parents must be very watchful, especially when their babies start creeping and crawling around.
Suffocation can occur from ingested objects or from blocked airways. In young babies, airways can be obstructed by bedding and swallowed items. In older babies and children, plastic bags and plastic wrap can cause suffocation.
- Always store plastic bags, plastic wrap and drycleaner bags well out of reach.
- If you have extra plastic bags, tie them in a knot and then discard them.
- Balloons are a big threat. When they pop, a startled child will often open her mouth and breathe in, lodging in her windpipe a piece of balloon that is almost impossible to remove.
- Follow the rules of basic crib safety. Mattresses should be firm and bedding should fit snugly. Pillows, loose blankets and stuffed animals are all suffocation hazards and should not be placed in a crib.
- Crib mattresses must fit tightly in a crib to avoid having a baby suffocate in the space between the mattress and side of the crib. Similarly, infants can get caught in the space between the floor and side of a playpen with a drop-side.
Anything that can fit in a toilet paper roll is a potential hazard and should be kept away from little hands and mouths.
- Never, ever leave a baby or young child unattended while eating. Choking can happen in a matter of seconds and children may not be able to make any noise to indicate there is a problem.
- Do not leave snacks sitting out in bowls.
- Always take precautions when serving food like grapes, carrot sticks and hot dogs. Either cut them very small or avoid them altogether until the child is old enough to eat them.
- Do not leave loose change lying around where children can reach it. Coins are a choking hazard.
- If you smoke, empty ashtrays when they are not in use. Cigarette butts can easily fit in any child’s mouth.
- Check kids clothes regularly for loose buttons. Sew them on securely or replace them with another, safer fastener, like Velcro.
- Beware of toys with removable parts and always check toys for breakage small, broken pieces can end up in a mouth. Also watch for dolls and stuffed animals with glass or button eyes.
The majority of childhood poisonings come from medication, with children’s pain relievers being the most common. Other sources of poison include household cleaning products, other chemicals (including pesticides), plants, and beauty products. The ages from 6 12 months are very high risk for poisoning because babies become mobile and will put everything they find in their mouths.
- Always have the number of your local Poison Control Center available and familiarize yourself with what to do in case of poisoning.
- Get to know which plants are poisonous and remove them from your home.
- Carefully consider what you are buying and whether you really need it. Some products are extremely toxic to children, including drain openers, fondue fuel, radiator and gas line antifreeze, and furniture strippers. Mothballs are also poisonous and can look like food to a baby.
- Always dispose of containers properly. Children can be poisoned by the residue in containers that were not properly disposed of.
- Whenever possible, keep all products in their original containers. If you do need to move them to another container, be sure to label them properly.
- Never tell children that medicine is candy. They will assume it is just as safe to consume as sweet treats.
- Do not take medicine in front of children. They will see it as an acceptable behavior and may mimic you.
- Ask visitors to keep purses, cosmetics/toiletry bags and medications out of reach of children.
Electrical outlets are a temptation for many little ones and precautions are often necessary.
- Buy special plugs for electrical outlets. The newest variety requires pressure on both sides before they can be removed.
- Do not draw attention to outlets with decorative covers or nightlights.
- Worn and frayed electrical cords are a hazard and should be removed.
Baby Proofing a Bathroom
Bathrooms are full of potential dangers, including medications, hot water and wet surfaces.
- Ensure that medicine cabinets are locked or inaccessible. Some experts recommend that you store all medications in a locked box and stow it in a place that your child cannot reach.
- Discard all old or unused medications.
- When dispensing medicine to children, always re-read the label. Do not rely on your memory for the correct dose. Do not dispense medicine in the dark.
- Do not trust childproof caps some children can figure them out.
- Use drawer latches or remove all sharp objects, like scissors, nail files, razors, combs and so on.
- Ensure that personal hygiene products, like shampoo, soap and cosmetics, are inaccessible.
- Always test bath water with your elbow. Your hands are not as sensitive to heat as Baby’s skin.
- Safety experts advise that you turn down your water heater to 120’ºF (38 – 45’ºC) to avoid scalding.
- Never leave a child alone in the bathtub, even for a few seconds.
- When in the tub, keep your child as far from the faucets as possible to avoid the child turning on the hot water tap or banging his head on the faucet. Inflatable faucet covers are available to protect little heads.
- Never step out of a tub while holding Baby. Hand her to another person or place her on a mat.
- Remove unnecessary appliances from the bathroom.
- Unplug appliances, like hairdryers, that are not in use.
- Leave toilet seats down. Use special latches if necessary.
- Disable bathroom door locks or have an immediately accessible lock-picking method available.
- Use non-skid bath mats on the floor and in the tub.
Baby Proofing a Kitchen
Next to the bathroom, the kitchen probably contains the most hazards for children.
- Use door and drawer locks to block access to hazards like the knife drawer, cleaning products and breakable utensils/vessels.
- Put heavy pots and pans at the back and bottom of a cupboard and/or lock the cupboard.
- When cooking, always keep pot handles turned in and use the back burners, where possible.
- As soon as the child can understand, teach him never to touch stoves, oven doors and pots on the stove. Remember that oven doors can get hot. Reinforce this lesson by not letting children touch an oven door even when the oven is cool.
- Teach a child not to play near garbage.
- Never hold a child when checking a hot pot or opening the oven.
- Do not hang towels or oven mitts on stove or oven handles.
- Keep cords for small appliances out of the reach of children and keep the appliances back from the edge of the counter. Try to keep small appliances unplugged when not in use.
- Check your child’s high chair carefully for stability and to ensure the safety harness is in tact. Place the high chair away from walls that your baby can push against and far from the stove.
- Never leave a child unattended in a high chair. Make sure that hands, fingers and Baby’s head cannot get trapped when the tray is raised or lowered.
- Always clean up spills immediately.
- Keep hot dishes, liquids and heavy serving pieces as far back from the edge of a table as possible. Use placemats instead of tablecloths to avoid having a child pull down a table full of dishes onto herself.
- Give Baby a safe play area in the kitchen, since you spend a lot of time there. A cupboard with plastic food containers and measuring cups is a good idea. Make sure this cupboard is far from the stove.
Baby Proofing the Stairs
Stairs are the cause of many of the falls that lead babies and toddlers to the hospital.
- For the tops of staircases, use hardware-mounting gates. These gates need to be bolted to a wall or doorframe. Ensure that the gate does not swing out over the stairs.
- Pressure-mounted gates are held in place by a pressured latch. They can easily pop out of place and are not suitable for the tops of stairs. You can use them at the bottoms of stairs and for blocking children from rooms they should not enter.
- Avoid accordion-style gates with diamond or ‘V’-shaped openings. A child can get his head trapped in those openings. These gates are illegal in most locales but can still be found at garage sales or as hand-me-downs.
- Ensure carpeting on stairs is tacked down securely.
- Ensure there is a handrail attached securely to the wall or floor on all staircases.
- Make sure stairs are well lit.
- Keep objects off of stairs.
- Railings on banisters should be no wider than 2 ‘¼’. If the gap is wider, purchase a banister guard to cover the openings.
Baby Proofing the Bedroom
- Always position a crib/bed away from windows.
- Keep furniture away from windows. Babies can climb and fall or get caught in the cords of blinds.
- Consider replacing blinds with cordless versions or buying clips to tie up blind cords and keep them out of reach.
- Never leave a baby unattended on a change table or bed.
- Keep the diaper pail out of reach or buy one that is childproof.
- Never leave an infant unsupervised on a waterbed.
Never let a child younger than 6 sleep on the top bunk of a bunk bed.
Baby Proofing the Living Area
- Cover soil in planters or closely supervise children playing in a room with plants.
- Remove all poisonous plants.
- Large, unstable objects, like bookcases, should be removed or bolted to the wall.
- Some experts recommend padding tables with sharp corners.
- Padded, plastic edge guards are available for the corners of walls, if you choose to use them.
- Fireplaces are dangerous. Never leave a child alone in a room where a fire is lit. Keep all fireplace tools out of reach, and keep the fireplace screen tightly drawn.
- Keep breakables out of reach.
- Keep furniture that can be climbed away from windows.
- Lock liquor cabinets or move liquor to an inaccessible location.
- Try to keep lamps out of reach.
Basements and garages present many risks as well. Experts often recommend that these areas, or portions of them, be off limits entirely. Laundry rooms are often in basements and can also contain some dangers.
- Never leave a child unattended near an ironing board with an iron on it. When you have finished ironing, store the iron somewhere other than the ironing board so it cannot fall. Store the ironing board flat or in an inaccessible room.
- Detergents and hazardous substances should always be out of reach.
- Power tools, gardening tools and automotive parts should all be out of reach.
- Be careful around garage doors. Automatic garage doors should have a motion sensor that forces them to go up when an object (or person) is encountered.
- Firearms, if present in a household, should always be stored unloaded, with ammunition stored separately. Keep all firearms and ammunition in a locked cabinet.
Where to Buy
Most baby proofing items are available in department stores, baby furniture stores and in hardware stores. Standard items include drawer and cupboard latches, door knob covers (to prevent children from entering certain rooms), toilet latches, inflatable covers for bathtub faucets and covers for the sharp corners of tables.
Other retailers, like Safety Superstore or SecureBaby, are available online. These stores sell all kinds of specialty items, like banister guards, in addition to standard baby proofing items.