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Baby Toy Buying Guide

Laura Doss

Chemicals in toys

Another thing to look for on labels: phtalates, those chemicals that make plastics softer. It’s a topic that’s evolving, but Appy says that concerns are mounting that they might disrupt normal hormonal balance and could possibly be associated with behavioral issues and asthma. How to know if a toy has phtalates if it doesn’t list materials? “If your toy is marked for recycling, you’re looking for recycling #3,” she says. Luckily, Congress has already banned six types of phtalates from children’s toys, and companies like Wal-Mart, Lego, Toys R Us and Evenflo are phasing all phtalates out of their toys.

Where you shop can also impact your toy-buying. For instance, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with dollar stores, their merchandise may not pass rigorous baby toy standards. “You are definitely looking for toys that are sturdy, made by somebody who understands new regulations of toy safety, and something that will hold up with normal wear and tear,” Appy says. If you sense imminent destruction of the toy, or if there’s no label to tell you the age limit, take a pass.


At-Home Toy Safety

After opening any new toy, toss all packaging. Besides suffocation from plastic bags and wrappings, hard shell cases can often leave perilously sharp edges.

Noisy toys are annoying, and they can also be harmful for your baby’s sensitive ears. If you’ve purchased a toy that sounds loud to you, it’s likely too loud for your baby, Appy says. Take the batteries out or cover the speaker with tape.

With any toy, it’s important to provide some supervision for your baby’s play. “Make sure your child is using toys in a safe environment and then put them in a safe place when they’re done,” Appy says.

Storing toys neatly can be a hassle, but storing them safely is a must. Toy bins work, as well as toy chests that have lids with safety hinges so they don’t squash tiny fingers. It’s also smart to separate your baby’s toys from an older sibling’s toys. It keeps unsafe older-kid toys from your baby and reminds big siblings that they must help keep little toy parts out of baby’s hands.

Even after you’ve OK’d a new toy, inspect it now and then to make sure it’s still working properly, and hasn’t been damaged or broken in a way that could cause harm. Also, keep abreast of toy recalls by checking or our constantly updated Recall Finder. Send in warranty cards and the CPSC will contact you if there’s been a recall. 


Hand-Me-Down Toys

They don’t make ’em like the used to, right? And that might be a good thing. “Hand-me-down toys can be very nostalgic, but in the last 10 or so years, a lot has changed,” Appy says. “We know more, and we’re looking for dangers more systematically.” Which doesn’t mean your childhood Raggedy Ann doll is off limits; it just means you need to check to see, for instance, if her button eyes are going to pop off and wind up in her mouth. Or if the paint on those beautiful blocks is lead-based. Or, says Cohen, if it’s just been collecting bacteria for too long. “If it’s been in your parents’ basement for 20 years, it’s probably not OK,” he says.

Also consider age-appropriateness. You might tear up as you hand your old Cabbage Patch doll to your baby, but she might not be ready for it. “If you don’t care if it gets ruined with your child, then OK, but if you thought it was going to be given to their children and their children’s children, you might need to wait.”