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Baby Toy Buying Guide

Laura Doss

Choosing Safe Toys

While your baby might very well be a future Pulitzer Prize-winner, she is still going stick everything, no matter how gross, in her mouth—and that can be risky. “There are more than 200,000 toy-related injuries a year that result in emergency room visits,” says Meri-K Appy, president of Safe Kids USA (formerly the Home Safety Council). Most are under 4 years old, and more than a dozen children under 15 die each year from toy-related accidents. Though your first instinct may be to swaddle your kid until he’s in high school, you don’t need to be scared; you just need to be smart.

The most basic safety tip is to purchase age-appropriate toys. “We like to think of our children as advanced and give them, with pride, something that they’re ‘ready for,’ but that can be a dangerous mistake,” Appy says. Read and heed those warning labels; they’re there for a reason and often prompted by an accident. “The back-story is tragic; it’s a loss or an injury that could be life-long,” Appy says. Most of the warning labels are for children ages 3 and under, because they’re at the highest risk for choking.

You’ll see choking hazard warnings on toys like balls, balloons, marbles, and Lego pieces. Any item small enough to fit through a toilet paper roll is small enough to fit down a young child’s windpipe, Appy explains—for instance, a ball should be more than 1.75 inches in diameter. Toy stores may have small parts testers, but the toilet paper roll offers a good guide.

Recently, button magnets and magnetic jewelry have caused alarm. They are tiny and tempting for a curious baby, and can be deadly. “If a child swallows two, they can come together in the body and injure organs,” Appy explains. Another no-no: latex balloons. Small pieces can go down your baby’s throat and get stuck. “If you must have a balloon, then Mylar is actually safer,” Appy says.

Remember, too, that well-meaning gift-givers may ignore a warning label; perhaps Grandma picked up something she loved or the nanny doesn’t read English very well. So you’ll need to check toy presents before you give them to your baby. Also, any caregivers should be well-versed in toy safety. “It’s important to talk to anyone taking care of your child,” Appy says.

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