Babyproof Your Home, Room by Room
by David T. Tayloe Jr., M.D., President, American Academy of Pediatrics
There's no place like home, especially when it's filled with the pitter-patter of little feet. To make every room safer for your child, from infancy through toddlerhood, follow these strategies.
Whether your family gathers in a living room, family room, rec room, den or sun room, give yourself a baby's-eye view of hidden dangers by crawling around on all fours. Look closely at your furnishings: Hard corners or edges on coffee and end tables can cause cuts and bruises, while heavy furniture can topple on curious climbers. The fireplace and candles are fire and burn risks, as are electrical cords and outlets. Staircases may trip up crawlers and new or unsteady walkers, and railings with widely spaced slats can lead to falls or entrapment. Check your décor too, as vases and other ornaments are often breakable, and some plants are poisonous.
Make It Safer
Keep furniture upright by fastening it to the wall with brackets or straps, and place soft bumper pads around the edges of tabletops and the hearth. Use a screen on the fireplace (even when no fire is lit), and avoid lighting candles, which are easy to knock over. To prevent shocks and burns, tape down electrical cords and cover outlets with safety plates — not plastic plugs, which can be a choking hazard. (Heed this advice throughout the house.) Avert tumbles with hardware-mounted safety gates at the top and bottom of staircases, and mesh fabric netting on all railing or banister openings wider than 4 inches. Keep floors and surfaces within baby's reach clear of plants and fragile items, as well as small objects such as loose change and toy parts that can cause choking.
Furniture in baby's space needs particular attention, so that she doesn't roll off the changing table or climb the furniture and fall out the window. Don't overlook a toy chest with a way-too-heavy lid that can pinch delicate fingers, close on her head or trap her inside. Beware of looped cords on window coverings as they're a strangulation hazard. Cribs can have loose hardware, broken slats or decorative hazards, including soft bedding.
Make It Safer
As in living areas, secure furniture to the wall. Move away from the window any furniture that might invite climbing, and install operable window guards on the second floor and above. (In general, open windows throughout the house no more than 3 inches, or only from the top.) At the changing table, always use the safety strap, and keep an arm on your tot on the changing table (or bed) — or change him on the floor. Choose a toy box with no lid, or with a lightweight lid and safety hinges that allow it to be opened and closed gently and from the inside. Keep window-covering cords (here and throughout the entire house) out of reach by fitting them with cord stops or tying them up; better yet, select cordless coverings for all windows. A safe crib has slats no more than 2 3/8 inches apart, no high corner posts or cutouts, and a snug-fitting mattress designed for the crib in which it is used. Periodically check that hardware is tightly fastened, and keep everything but the baby — including pillows, soft bedding, plastic bags and balloons-out of the crib to prevent suffocation. Don't overlook mobiles and wall hangings, which should be removed from the crib area when baby can push up on his hands and knees so he doesn't pull them down or become tangled in them. Minimize fire and burn hazards by using night-lights that stay cool, and keep them away from drapery and bedding.
The obvious dangers here are water-related: drowning or slipping on wet surfaces like the tub or tile floors. Also be conscious of appliances, especially curling irons or hot rollers that can burn exploring fingers or are plugged into sockets near the sink or tub. Look out for potential poisons, such as cleaning supplies, perfumes, cosmetics, vitamins and medications (which can resemble candy), and sharp objects like razors, scissors, tweezers and clippers that can cause cuts or punctures.
Make It Safer
Keep the bathroom door closed, and install a protective doorknob cover so baby can't get in without you. Prevent slips and falls with nonskid, slip-resistant mats. Set your water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or below to avoid scalding (and always test water on the inside of your wrist before bathing). Cover the faucet with a spout guard to protect baby from bumps. Don't use a bath seat — stay within arm's reach of her, especially when she's in or near water (including the often-overlooked water in the toilet bowl) — and keep a secure grip when lifting her in and out of the bath. Ensure electrical sockets near the sink and tub have ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), which automatically cut the power if an appliance gets wet — have them installed if your house was built before 1975, when their use in bathrooms became mandatory. Unplug electrical appliances when not in use, and store them out of harm's way; do the same for countertop temptations, chemicals and the wastebasket. Fit all cabinets with child-resistant latches or locks, and install a lock on the toilet lid too.
Stove tops and burners with hot pots and pans can burn or scald would-be chefs, and sharp utensils like scissors and knives may cause nasty cuts. Anything dangling — tablecloths as well as appliance cords — is at risk for a sudden yank. Cabinets and drawers can pinch little fingers and often contain off-limits items such as cleaning products, liquor and a trash can full of temptations.
Make It Safer
It's best to keep tots out of the kitchen altogether, but probably not practical, so create a safe space, or use a stationary activity center or high chair. Use stove knob covers and a barrier to block burners, and turn pot handles toward the back of the stove or use only the back burners. Store chairs and step stools in a secure place to keep baby from clambering onto counters, the stove or the sink, where he could fall or experiment with forbidden items, and unplug appliances when not in use (bundle the cords with a rubber band). Opt for place mats instead of a tablecloth on the table, and put him down while you're enjoying your morning java, so he doesn't make a grab for the steaming mug. Install child-resistant latches or locks on the oven door, cabinets and drawers, and keep the dishwasher latched shut. Keep small objects or pieces of food off the floor — and out of baby's mouth — and keep the trash can firmly closed or in a latched cabinet. Store breakable items such as dishes and bottles out of reach.