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Childproofing

Overview

As your baby learns to sit, crawl, stand, and walk, she'll be exposed to exciting new experiences  -- and new dangers. She could topple that TV off its stand, for instance, or reach toxic cleaners under the kitchen sink. To help her explore safely:

In the kitchen

  • Put your baby in a secure spot when you're cooking, such as a bouncy seat, a car-seat carrier (on the floor), a high chair, or a play center; place her away from the stove and counters.
  • Practice safe cooking. Use back burners if possible, and turn pot handles toward the rear of the stove. Consider installing a stove shield or stove-knob covers (or remove knobs until you're ready to cook).
  • Buy a fire extinguisher that's rated for grease fires (the label should say it's meant for the kitchen).
  • Secure with latches all cabinets and drawers containing cleansers, glassware, knives, electrical appliances, etc.
  • Keep small appliances away from counter edges, and unplug when you're not using.
  • Put your baby's high chair away from objects that he can easily grab. Strap him in, and never leave him alone in it.
  • Take care with tablecloths and place mats  -- your child can tug on them and inadvertently pull off heavy dishes or hot food and drinks.
  • Clear tables and counters of choking hazards  -- not just food (grapes, hard candy, etc.) but also coins and small magnets. (For a complete list of foods that are choking hazards, see our Starting Solids guide.)

In the bathroom

  • Turn down the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. (If your water heater just reads "warm" and "hot," turn it to warm, run the tap for a few seconds, fill a glass, and test the temperature with a meat thermometer; adjust until it's about 120 degrees.)
  • Protect sockets near the sink from water. If your home doesn't have ground-fault-circuit-interrupters (GFCI; older homes may not), look for GFCI wall plates at home stores. They're easy to install on standard outlets.
  • Move medications (even nonprescription ones), cleaning supplies, and appliances such as curling irons and hair dryers to a latched cabinet. Keep very potent prescriptions, like sleeping aids or heart drugs, and dangerous cleansers, such as bleach or toilet-bowl cleanser, under lock and key.
  • Don't toss out medications in the bathroom trash can, where kids can find them. Flush pills down the toilet; pour liquids down the drain.
  • When bathing your baby, watch her every moment  -- infants can drown in just a couple of inches of water. Skip bath seats (which offer a false sense of security; instead, you can try a baby bath made for kids from birth to age 2.
  • Use a nonskid mat or appliques in the tub, and put a cover on the faucet to avoid bumped heads and burns.
  • Consider installing a toilet-lid safety lock.

In your child's bedroom

  1. Inspect the crib. It should be put together securely, with all parts tightened.
  2. Slats should be no more than 2 1/8 inches apart.
  3. The mattress should fit snugly in the frame  -- if you can fit two fingers between the mattress and the side of the crib, your baby's head can get trapped, which is a suffocation risk.
  4. The corner posts should either be flush with the end panels or tall enough to support a canopy if there is one.
  5. The sides of the crib should be 9 inches above the mattress support when the sides are lowered, and 26 inches above the mattress support in its lowest position when the sides are raised. Most new cribs meet the standards above, but it's a good idea to double-check. When buying, check for a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). 
  • Your child's ready for a bed when he's 35 inches tall or can climb out of his crib. Until you're sure he can sleep without falling out, use guardrails on both sides of the bed (unless one side is flush against a wall).
  • Keep all cords from blinds or draperies, electrical wires, framed wall pictures, and shelves away from the crib or bed and changing table.
  • Consider a stand-alone changing table; it's more stable than traylike models that attach to dressers. The side rails should be at least two inches above the changing pad, with straps to secure your baby (use 'em!).
  • Stow diaper-changing supplies close by so you can stay near your baby at all times, but keep powders and creams out of his reach.
  • Move chairs, cribs, beds, and other furniture away from windows.
  • Screw dressers and bookshelves to the wall, or buy specially designed straps to attach them.
  • A toy chest should have safety hinges so it can't close on your child's fingers (or neck).

The rest of the house

  • Replace batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors every six months. There should be a smoke detector near the bedrooms, and one on each level of your home. Install a carbon monoxide detector outside the bedrooms and near possible sources, such as the kitchen and garage.
  • Cover all electrical outlets.
  • Secure wires and cords with a rubber band or cord wrangler so lamps, TVs, etc. can't be pulled down.
  • Install window guards in rooms on the second floor and above. (Screens aren't enough to prevent falls.)
  • Attach shorteners to drapery and venetian-blind cords.
  • Cushion sharp furniture edges with corner guards or soft bumpers.
  • Check the recall list provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure that toys or furniture in your home haven't been recalled.
  • Use safety gates or doorknob guards to keep your child away from any rooms or areas that aren't childproofed.
  • Install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs. For the top of stairs, look for gates that screw to the wall rather than using pressure gates. (Gates that meet safety standards display a certification seal from the JPMA.)
  • If balusters on staircases are more than three and a half inches apart, buy railing guards (usually made of mesh) so a child can't get stuck.
  • Nix poisonous plants. If chewed, philodendron and dieffenbachia can cause swelling of the mouth or tongue, making it hard to breathe. Poinsettias and rubber plants may release a sap that irritates skin; poinsettias and holly can cause gastrointestinal distress if ingested.

Summary

Once your baby's mobile, there's no stopping her. Even after you've childproofed every room, do one final check: Get down on your hands and knees to see what she sees, or what she can grab. You may be surprised at the problems you wouldn't have noticed from your usual vantage point!

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