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Childproofing Made Easy

The best way to make your home safe: Start childproofing early  -- before your baby's born, since that's when you actually have time to do it, or before such milestones as crawling or walking. Begin with a few safeguards, then add more as your child grows. Here's how  -- and when  -- to start:

The kitchen

Before you bring your baby home:
Buy a fire extinguisher that's rated for grease fires (the label should say that it's meant for the kitchen). Read the instructions carefully when you get it. If you can, practice once  -- outside, so you don't make a mess  -- then refill or replace it. And remember that you should use your extinguisher only for a small, contained fire; for one that's larger or spreading, evacuate and call the fire department.

Before your baby crawls:
Get in the habit of putting her in a safe spot when you're cooking. An infant in a bouncy seat or car-seat carrier (on the floor)  -- or, once she can hold her head up, in a high chair or a play center  -- is much safer than one on the loose in the kitchen. Scalding is just one big danger: You might trip over her as you take a boiling pot off the stove.

Practice safe cooking. Turn pot handles toward the rear of the stove; cook on back burners whenever possible.

Move all cleaning supplies into adult-height cabinets. Never store household chemicals in containers originally used for food or beverages.

Before your baby cruises or walks:
Install safety latches on cabinets and drawers  -- especially on those that contain knives or other sharp objects.

Keep step stools and chairs away from counters, so little adventurers can't climb up and fall off. (You also don't want them to be able to reach knives and other dangerous things.) This precaution may sound obvious, but experts say lots of people don't do it.

Keeping mealtime safe:
* Place your baby's high chair away from objects in the kitchen or dining room that he could easily grab. Strap him in, and never leave him unattended.

* If you use tablecloths or place mats, be extra vigilant  -- your child can tug on them and inadvertently pull off the heavy dishes or hot liquids resting on top.

* When microwaving food for your child, release the steam and stir the food before serving. (Don't heat formula or stored breast milk in the microwave because it can create dangerous hot spots. Run the bottles under warm water for a few minutes instead.)

* Avoid choking hazards. Until your child turns 4, don't feed him nuts, seeds, popcorn, hard or sticky candy, whole grapes or cherries, chunky peanut butter (use the smooth kind), or chewing gum. Cut up firm, round foods (grapes, cooked carrots, hot dogs, etc.) into small pieces  -- about a quarter inch  -- before serving.

Dana Sullivan, a mom of three, is coauthor of The Essential C-Section Guide, and writes for Health, Real Simple, and O.

The bedroom

Before you bring your baby home:
Inspect the crib
* It should be put together securely, with all parts tightened.

* Slats should be no more than 2 1/8 inches apart.

* 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, creating a suffocation risk.

* The corner posts should either be flush with the end panels or tall enough to support a canopy if there is one.

* 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 always a good idea to double-check. When buying, check for a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). If you have a used or older crib, you'll also want to look at the recall list provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure your model hasn't been recalled.

Inspect your smoke detectors. Replace batteries every six months. There should be a smoke detector outside each bedroom, and one on each level of your home. You should also install a carbon monoxide detector outside the bedrooms, and near the kitchen.

Before your baby crawls:
Install safety gates at the bottom and top of stairs and in front of areas that haven't been childproofed. (For the top of stairs, look for gates that screw to the wall rather than using pressure gates.) New gates that meet safety standards display a certification seal from the JPMA.

Cover all electrical outlets. Your child's at the perfect height to poke objects into them.

Don't leave your child alone on your bed or changing table. Falls from such spots are the leading cause of injuries in babies and toddlers.

Before your baby cruises or walks:
Install window guards in rooms on the second floor and above. (Screens aren't sufficient to prevent falls.)

Move chairs, cribs, beds, and other furniture away from windows.

Secure wires and cords so lamps, TVs, etc., can't be pulled down. Screw dressers and bookshelves to the wall, or buy specially designed straps to attach them to walls, so eager climbers can't tip them over.

A toy chest should have safety hinges, so it can't close on your child's fingers (or neck).

The bathroom

Before you bring your baby home:
Turn down the water heater so the temperature is no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At 140 degrees, a baby can get a serious burn in 5 seconds; even at 130 degrees, it could happen in 30 seconds. (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.)

Before your baby crawls:
Keep him out! The floor's slippery, the surfaces are hard, and there's that endlessly fascinating toilet-a drowning hazard. A door latch, lock, or knob cover will do the trick.

When you bring your baby in for a bath, watch him every moment  -- infants can drown in just a couple of inches of water. Skip bath seats, which offer a false sense of security because parents often think they can leave their child unattended in them, and try one of the new baby baths available for kids from birth to age 2.

When bathing your baby, test the water temperature with your elbow (it's more sensitive than your hand).

Move razors, medications  -- even nonprescription ones  -- and cleaning supplies to an out-of-reach cabinet. Keep more potent prescriptions, like sleeping aids or heart drugs, and dangerous cleansers, such as bleach or toilet bowl cleaner, under lock and key.

Don't discard any medications in the bathroom trash can, where kids can find them. Instead, flush unused pills down the toilet; pour liquids down the drain.

Before your baby cruises or walks:
Protect sockets near the sink from water. Outlets in the bathroom (and kitchen) should have ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCI), which turn off the power source if they get wet. Older homes may not have them. If yours doesn't, look for GFCI wall plates at home stores. They're easy to install on standard outlets.

Clear your counters. Put curling irons, hair dryers, nail scissors, and other dangerous objects in a latched cabinet.

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