By Kimberlee Mitchell
Child Safety Expert and Owner of Boo Boo Busters™ Professional Babyproofing Services
Your home will surely undergo some changes even before the birth of your newborn. But fear not! Child safety devices have come a long way in the past few years and there are more and more product choices for esthetic/consumer-minded parents. Of course safety comes first, but babyproofing doesn’t have to look ugly or be a nuisance to use. I’m a child safety expert and a scrutinizing mother of two who has assessed the vast amount of injury prevention devices to unearth my favorite “Mommy Tested & Approved” product that will save new parents time and frustration.
Babyproof Before Your Child Starts Crawling
The average baby begins to crawl at about six months, at which point the job of parenting becomes more exciting, as well as, terrifying when your child no longer stays where you put him. Some industrious infants can roll before they sit up and surprisingly lay some serious tread all the way across the room! That said, your little one’s curiosity sans (yet to be developed) common sense, propels him into harm’s way time and time again and it’s your job to be one step ahead of your little one paving the way of safety. Some mommies check babyproofing off the list while still pregnant, as they want to be prepared as possible, which is ideal and highly recommended. However, most new parents consider babyproofing “something they’ll get to later” and then “later” they find themselves in a panic when the baby begins to crawl. A new child requires an inordinate amount of time and attention and your days rush by at a rapid pace. Before you know it your child is mobile! Why not be ahead of the game? Be proactive and get parental peace of mind by babyproofing during pregnancy.
A Powerful One-Two Combo: Babyproofing and Discipline
Nonetheless, more than *four million children end up in the emergency room each year as a result of accidents. The good news is *90% of these accidents could have been avoided. (*SafeKids.org) While there’s no replacement for vigilant supervision, proactive childproofing can go a long way toward preventing needless injury. Even before your baby can explore on his own, teach him what is safe and what is dangerous by showing him examples of each around your home. The stove, trash can, toilet and doggy door are all “no no’s” and can cause “boo boos.” Choose your vernacular and stick with it; in fact share it you’re your husband for consistency with your baby. Babyproofing and discipline overlap and it’s never too early to start this critical instruction.
Lengthen the Life of Your Babyproofing
Given enough time alone with some child safety devices some little ones can MacGyver their way through nonetheless. Aghast at the thought of this? Don’t forget that they have been studying you for months watching your every move and the moment their little bodies catch up with their minds it doesn’t take much for some to have it all wired. Babies who aren’t even walking yet can open levered door handles, which shocks many parents. (Top door locks are an esthetic and effective lock for these doors where standard round knob covers won’t fit.) So after babyproofing your home, be sure to operate all child safety devices with your back to your child to lengthen the life of your babyproofing. Most of the devices are there to slow your child down until mommy arrives with a loving yet stern, “No, no. Not for babies,” and after one warning remove the little adventurer from the off limits item. Albeit you’ll have to say and do this hundreds of times, it’s all part of the job description as beloved momma.
Have Off Limits Rooms
The cheapest and quickest way to babyproof is to limit your child’s access to certain parts of the home and disallow access to areas that are neither safe nor appropriate for babies. The guest room, garage, laundry room, loft, terrace, older sibling’s room, office, gym, utility room, craft room and rooms under construction should be “off limits” for babies and need to be secured with door locks. A child that learns to respect what is “not their property” will learn necessary boundaries and behave better when you visit other homes, stores, etc. A child given free reign to get into anything and everything will have a harder time learning what is “hands off.” These principles can be imparted early even to babies. No unsupervised entry into bathrooms until you’re well into potty training your child, so locks all baths, toilet and magnetic cabinets to stop a curious baby happens upon an open door. The front door and interior doors leading to the garage or outside should have flip locks installed up high so a baby and/or toddler do not have outdoors access without permission. These locks also keep them from answering the door when someone rings the bell.
Common Hazards in Every Home
Some household dangers are obvious yet others can be more elusive. Albeit there are hundreds of dangers common to every household, many are easily rectified once recognized. Some homes require custom work or removal of certain items until child is older. A professional opinion will offer peace-of-mind to make sure no stone was left unturned. Below is a list of recommended childproofing tips for every home broken down by hazard type:
- Replace all outlet covers with sliding outlet covers. Use box outlet covers for oversized plugs in outlets.
- NOTE: Commonly known plastic push plugs should not be used in outlets as they are now considered choking hazards. FYI, anything that can fit inside empty toilet paper roll is considered a choking hazard.
- Use cord control kits to organize and house all wires. Make offices off-limits an area. Cover exposed frayed wires.
- Use power strip covers to secure strips with multiple plugs.
- GFCI outlets should be in all areas that come in contact with water.
- Anchor all armoires, shelving units, dressers, etc. or appliances (i.e. TV, VCR, computer, etc.) that can topple onto child as a result of climbing or pulling. When drawers are open simultaneously the unit, however sturdy, becomes front heavy and tips easily on its own or with weight of toddler pushing on an open drawer. Little ones do this trick to climb the dresser to get what’s on top of it.
- In Southern California we’ve lost three children in the past 4 years to unanchored television sets falling on top of each of them.
- Earthquake securing is equally important.
- Install window guards with emergency release latches on all windows on second level or higher. Screens are not babyproofing devices.
- Beware of toy stacking. Children will pile up anything to get a view outside. Move furniture away from half walls where child can climb up and fall over. Consider having Plexiglas installed to extend dangerous pony (or half) walls.
- Mount safety gate at stair top and bottom. Professional babyproofers offer top quality gates, extensions and custom mount kits for wood and wrought iron banisters. Pressure gates are not recommended for stairs or high traffic areas – use mounted ones instead.
- If banister posts are more than 2 1/2" apart, install a Plexiglas.
- Install custom cut Plexiglas on stair banisters and decks that are no to code (or 2 1/2 inches wide) or if there are decorative embellishments on wrought iron rail or banister that will serve as a foothold or ladder for a climbing child.
- Never let child play unattended on loft or balcony. Remove table, chairs and other objects your child can climb onto from balcony deck to prevent falls over railing.
- Be sure all area rugs and mats have non-skid bottoms to avoid slipping.
- Never leave infant unattended on changing table or bed. Always keep one hand on child at al times.
- Never let child play on stairs unattended.
- Move all chemicals (including cleaning supplies, various beauty and childcare accessories and alcohol, etc.) to a high locked cabinet.
- Install magnetic child safety locks on all accessible cabinets that contain these toxic items. These are much more reliable than latches and are impossible to open with out magnetic lock key.
- No unsupervised entry into garage and laundry room.
- CO detectors should be installed on each level of home near sleeping quarters.
- Do not use sunscreen on babies under six months of age.
- Find out which plants in your home and yard are poisonous. In California landscapers commonly use Oleander, which is highly toxic. If there is a plant in question, cut off a sprig, put it in a zip lock bag and bring it to local plant nursery for their input.
- Keep all pet doors closed off when child is present – disengage automatic/sensory pet doors.
- Pets can run through door and knock over child and/or child can escape to the outside via the door, which is at their eye level and quite inviting to little ones.
- Never allow your child access to an animal you don’t already know is good with children. Don’t allow child to hug dog or kiss pets face.
- Don’t bring small children to dog parks or go if you’re pregnant. I was broadsided by two dogs at a dog park when I was seven months pregnant and broke my leg. I was able to try out the epidural 3 months before I actually delivered my first child so my orthopedic surgeon could screw my leg together. Freak accident, maybe, but not worth risking the life of your unborn child.
- Do not allow cats into nursery as they can smother an infant. I’ve never heard of a case of this personally but it makes sense. Use a crib tent on the crib or pack and play if you have cats.
- Anything that will fit inside an empty cardboard toilet paper roll is a choking hazard.
- Replace all old door stops that have removable rubber tips with one piece door stops as the small rubber tip is a choking hazard.
- Remove bolt covers on toilets as they are hidden choking hazards.
- Do a visual safety sweep of home every day before child wakes to make sure all small objects are picked up/swept off floor.
- Beware of older children’s toys that can be choking hazards. Use locked storage bins for small pieces. Limit play with these toys until the baby is napping. Disallow Magnetix type toys as an ingested magnet can be cause lethal intestinal complications.
- Install a peg rack on wall to hang purses, coats, bags, backpacks, etc. to keep out of reach.
- Install blind cord cleats and wrap all dangling blind cords to disallow strangulation.
- Clean under furniture cushions daily as items easily fall from pockets and out of sight.
- Remove toy mobiles and canopy from crib once child is sitting up.
- Keep baby monitor or any other plugged in device away from child’s reach.
- Be watchful
- Never leave the child unattended in or around water.
- Avoid the most common drowning hazard and have a pool fence, cover or net installed over all pools and spas. House alarms – the ones that beep every time someone opens a door or window in your home -- are great safety measures.
- When swimming with baby or small child always keep them within arm’s distance and PAY ATTENTION. Being engrossed in a conversation with someone while “watching your child” is very dangerous.
- Babies can fall into toilet head first and not be able to get out so be sure to install toilet locks as well as keeping bathrooms locked and off limits.
- After it rains do a visual safety sweep of the yard to look for planters, buckets or water tables with pooled water and dump it out.
- Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid risk of scalding.
- Use back burners in kitchen and turn pot handles in.
- Parents make habit of holding handrail when using stairs when carrying child. I’ve have a customer who’s husband slipped while holding the baby, they both fell and infant broke his leg. Btw, their house was perfectly babyproofed. Don’t forget human hazards!
- Keep doors to “off limits” rooms pulled closed. The lock only works if the door is kept closed.
- Beware of elderly or older children with non-safe household habits. They will unintentionally leave medicines out, drop pills, leave doors/cabinets/drawers open, etc. You can educate your family members to be mindful of their unsafe habits but at the end of the day the baby’s safety is your responsibility.
- Beware of small siblings picking up baby.
- Be vigilant about supervising your child. You can babyproof your home like a safety fortress but there is no replacement for your constant attention to your child and detail.
- Turn off the TV if you are not watching it with your child. The program may be child-safe but the commercials might not. There are some pretty terrifying things on TV that will not physically harm a baby but can cause damage. See your pediatrician about this topic for more information.
A VIRTUAL HOME SAFETY EVALUATION:
The following is a room-by-room walk through of an average family home. Keep in mind that most homes were not designed for the safety of a baby or child in mind. Each residence has special features that are unique as well as common safety challenges. Below is a list of solutions to common safety hazards found in most homes:
- Install magnetic child safety locks on all accessible drawers and cabinets that contain toxic items (i.e. cleaning supplies, alcohol, vitamins, plastic bags, etc.)
- Gate off kitchen area.
- Keep child in high chair or pack and play during meal preparation.
- Latch all other drawers and cabinets. We recommend babyproofing for safety first and foremost, however it’s also a matter of convenience. If you choose, keep one cupboard with Tupperware lids unlocked for child to access but be sure they can not use this open cabinet or drawer as a step to climb up onto counter. Your child may not be able to reach certain drawers now but he surely will in no time.
- Never let child play with pots or pans as it sends the wrong message to child that these are toys. When child sees the same pots/pan on stove top he will want to grab his familiar “toy.”
- Consider latching all appliances child can access like the refrigerator, dishwasher, trash compactor, dumbwaiter and oven.
- Keep all appliances on counter unplugged and hide electrical cords.
- Do not hang dish towels on oven door as baby can pull towel and bring the door down into the bridge of his nose.
- Use back burners on stove and install stove guard and knob covers if child has access to them.
- Do not use small or breakable refrigerator magnets as they are choking hazards.
- Beware of leaving knives, scissors, coffee mug, etc. out on counter as child will grab at whatever they can get a handle on from their vantage.
- No unsupervised entry into bathroom.
- Use safety locks on door at all times.
- Install toilet locks to prevent child from drowning and throwing objects in.
- Latch all cabinets.
- Move wastebasket under sink behind a latched cabinet door or use a covered receptacle.
- Turn water heater down to 120 degrees to prevent scalding.
- Always check water temperature on your inner wrist prior to putting baby into it.
- Never leave a child in bath unattended.
- Never leave filled tub unattended and drain tub immediately after use. Children can wander in and drown.
- Use no-slip mat to prevent slipping and a spout cover to prevent scalding and cuts.
- Remove all electrical appliances from bathroom where child bathes.
Living Room/Family Room
- Eliminate baby's access to fireplaces, wood stoves and hot tubs using gates developed for this purpose. If gates will not work on fireplace use specially designed fireplace lock on glass accordion doors and install hearth padding around edges of hearth to prevent child from falling onto it.
- Remove gas key from fireplace gas gauge and store in high place.
- Anchor all items that are tipping hazards.
- Anchor TVs.
- Remove all items (torchiere lamps, freestanding coat racks, statues, etc.) from home until child is older.
- Cover end tables, coffee tables, countertops, and low dressers furniture corners and edges with cushioning created for this purpose.
- No unsupervised access to decks. Beware of you child stacking toys/object to see over railing.
- Install a Plexiglas or net barrier if there is more than 2 ½ inches between railing posts.
- Put decals on sliding glass doors at baby's eye level, so he or she doesn't run into them.
- Always keep baby away when from the grill. Hearth gates work well for this purpose.
- Do not use deck furniture to eliminate risk of climbing.
- Always lock all doors leading to decks.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics have the following helpful safety suggestions for your child’s nursery.
- ALWAYS place your baby to sleep on his or her back. This greatly reduces the risk from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or suffocation. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended back-sleeping five years ago, SIDS deaths in the USA have declined by 38%.
- Remove all soft bedding-pillows, comforters, blankets and stuffed animals-from the crib to further reduce risk of suffocation. Instead of a blanket, dress baby in a sleep sack or sleeper.
- Make sure the crib itself meets current safety standards. This means:
- The slats are no wider than 2 3/8" apart
- The mattress is firm-not soft (foam or coil - your preference)
- There is no gap between mattress and crib walls. Two fingers worth of space is too much.
- Corner posts are level with the height of the end panels (just 1/16" higher at most)
- There are no decorative cut-outs in the headboard or footboard.
- Top rails, when raised, are at least 26" above the mattress support in its lowest position.
- Hardware is secure-no loose or broken screws or pieces. Recheck periodically.
- Drop sides cannot be accidentally released by a child. (According to the National Safety Council, the crib sides should require two separate steps to release. If this is a one step process, it should require a minimum force of 10 pounds to release.)
- Look for a JPMA safety certification seal on newly manufactured cribs.
- Top rails should be covered by teething guards.
- Keep blind cords, curtain pulls, décor, electrical cords and mobiles out of baby's reach.
- Maintain a cool room temperature give a recommended range to prevent overheating.
- Place baby's crib away from any source of draft.
- Make sure baby's fitted sheet is secured to the mattress and will not pop loose.
- Place a baby monitor in the nursery far from child’s reach.
- Consider purchasing a special crib mattress that circulates air around baby. This helps prevent the “rebreathing” of carbon dioxide, which is believed to be a leading cause of SIDS.
- If you use bumper pads, make sure they are tightly secured to the sides of the cribs. Trim excess ties or straps. Straps should be loose, easy to push down to mattress and not hung up on any hardware. You don’t want your child to get a foothold on bumper to be able to climb out.
- When child is sitting up remove bumper pads and all other animals or pillows and lower crib mattress to lowest position.
- Once the top of the crib rails are less than three-fourths your child's height or they are 36 inches tall, it's time to move to a toddler bed.
- If you have a child who climbs out of the crib before the above point, seriously consider using a crib tent. Some parent’s don’t like it but the potential alternatives are far worse.
- Install finger guards or a door mouse on fast-closing doors.
- Anchor all furniture, cover all outlets (even ones behind crib), and install locks or window guards on all windows.
- When baby is sitting up remove all mobiles and any type of canopy over bed as they can pose choking or strangulation hazards.
- Do not place heavy object on shelves or hang pictures above crib.
- Use earthquake putty on all objects placed on shelving. Use Velcro the secure base of pictures on walls – stick to wall and back of frame and it will prevent it from falling and breaking during quake.
- Use locks (suction cups are best) on sliding closet doors until baby can open and close without pinching fingers or slamming causing glass doors to crack.
- Pick up room every night before bed so in the event of an emergency you can get to your child quickly without incident.
- When child is in toddler bed, use pressure gate in doorway to prevent child from walking around house unsupervised during the night. Instruct child to call for you when he is awake in the morning.
Fire & Health Safety
- Store fire escape ladders in every bedroom on second level and above.
- Place working fire alarms in every bedroom and on every story and remember to check them regularly. Day light savings time is a good marker to use check your alarms bi-annually.
- Make sure all fire/smoke alarms are in working order. The Vocal Smoke alarms will record mom or dad’s voice so child will hear detailed instruction from parents as what to do in the event of a fire.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on each level of home near sleeping areas.
- Install natural gas detectors on each level of home near sleeping areas.
- Create and practice a disaster plans. (i.e. fire escape plan, earthquake plan, disaster plan.)
- Purchase disaster preparedness kits.
- Place fire safety decals (KidsInHere™) on the bottom outside of the child’s room door(s) and outside window(s) (exercise discretion here) and in the event of a fire these reflective stickers will alert fire fighters to search for child/children.
- Place the phone number of the poison control center near the telephone. You will need to know your child’s weight to treating a poisoning. Never use ipecac unless instructed by a professional to do so.
- Learn first aid and CPR and keep your skills up-to-date.
- All guns are to be locked up with key in safe and separate place.