When you’re planning to bring home a baby, you begin to look at your home in a new way. How will your upholstery stand up to milk stains? Should you move the sofa to make room for a play mat? Does that hilariously inappropriate throw pillow seem a little too… inappropriate?
Your most important goal in reassessing your house is, of course, the baby’s safety. The following tips will help you get started on creating a safe home environment for your little one.
Table of Contents:
1. Step by Step
The good thing about babyproofing is that babies grow gradually. Unless you’re adopting an older child or just preparing for visitors, you will have a long time to account for the new risks at each stage.
Newborn babies—very conveniently—stay where you put them. Newborns can’t crawl, or even roll over. Focus on addressing the most relevant risks first. The lock on the liquor cabinet, for example, can wait—but baby’s sleeping place should be ready to go from day one.
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2. A Minimalist Crib
Decades ago, people loved to surround babies with blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers and everything else they could find to make the crib soft, soft, soft.
Today, though, we know that a minimal crib is best. Soft bedding and accessories can block the baby’s mouth and nose, making it hard for them to get enough oxygen. Firm is better. Remember, while an adult may find a firmer surface to be uncomfortable, babies are squishy and light. They’ll be just fine without the extra cushioning.
Be very careful when using a previously loved crib. Hand-me-downs can be sentimental and frugal, but not all older styles are safe. If you’re offered an old drop-side crib or one with widely placed slats, politely decline it.
Worried your baby will be cold without a blanket? Try one of the many available swaddling options. But don’t worry too much about temperature—if you’re warm enough, your baby probably is, too.
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3. Get Low
Once baby’s sleeping areas are safe, it’s time to look around the floor. The best way to find hazards is to get down to baby level yourself—lay down on your stomach and look around.
Floors are usually fairly safe, regardless of what they’re made of. It’s the objects sitting on the floor that can cause problems.
Look for sharp edges–coffee tables, fireplace hearths—and very soft ones as well (such as floor pillows or curtains).
Babies can go from stationary to rolling very quickly, so make sure anything they can roll into won’t hurt or pose a suffocation hazard.
How about outlet covers? Sure, go ahead and add them, if you want to. Outlets quickly come to mind when we think about childproofing, but they’re not much of a risk to an infant. Fingers don’t fit in light sockets, but forks and paperclips do, so keep that in mind when your child is old enough to explore.
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4. Big Problems
Our fears aren’t always proportionate to the real risks. We may be on the lookout for choking hazards and edges that can cut, but one of the most critical tasks is anchoring your furniture.
Before they can walk, babies will start to pull themselves up on anything they can reach. And while low, broad items like your sofa aren’t going anywhere, other pieces are much easier to tip.
Large TVs that are not mounted to the wall can be quite lightweight and require little force to knock them down. Dressers can lose their footing when too many drawers are opened and weight is put on a drawer.
It takes a little time to attach your bookcases and any other tippable items to the wall using straps or brackets, but it’s well worth it, because it may save your child’s life someday.
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5. Beware the Stairs
Up is not much of a problem—baby can face forward, stretch her weight across the steps, and go feet-first if she slips.
Down is another story altogether. Falls down the stairs can be serious and must be prevented.
Closing the door to a staircase works well, but relies on the adults in the home to remember every time.
Baby gates, on the other hand, remain in place. Gates at the top of the stairs need to be screwed into the walls for security; for gates at the bottom, tension mounting may be sufficient.
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6. Chem 101
Babies’ mouths go everywhere, especially during teething. Parents vary widely on their attitude toward dirt and germs, but we can all agree that hazardous substances need to be kept away from little ones.
That means storing them off the floor and out of accessible cabinets, unless those cabinets are secured with safety latches and locks.
Cleaning supplies are the main considerations for most homes, but think about plants that might be at baby level, medications of any kind, detergents, pesticides, beauty products, and anything else that could make its way into a baby’s hands or mouth.
Post the number for the Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) and add it to your contacts; if you’re ever concerned that your child may have ingested something harmful, they’ll talk you through it.
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7. Early Warning
Every home should have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors.
Smoke alarms should be on each level of the home, inside every bedroom, and outside of sleeping areas. Check them often to make sure the batteries are good; change them yearly or spend more for 10-year batteries.
Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed near sleeping areas and on each level of the house. Carbon monoxide gas is odorless and colorless, so alarms are critical to detecting a leak before it makes you very sick.
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8. Watch the Windows
Windows can pose two risks: strangulation and falls.
Long draperies and curtains can become wrapped around a child’s neck. Cords from blinds can be especially dangerous because they are harder to see. Old blinds (from 2000 or earlier) should be replaced with cordless ones.
For more information about safe window coverings, visit windowcoverings.org. When shopping, look for blinds with the Best for Kids certification.
Falls can happen when windows are low on the inside, but high off the ground on the outside. Consider using window guards and safety netting, since screens alone are not enough to prevent falls. You can also find products to use on decks and balconies.
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9. Pool Resources
Swimming pools can pose a life-threatening risk to babies and children. Pool and hot tub owners must have multiple layers of protection to keep a child from getting into the water.
Tall fences, self-closing gates, alarms and safety covers are a few of the options.
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10. In Hot Water
If your tap water can get hot enough to scald, the first step is to set your water heater no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can also look for anti-scald devices, which can regulate the temperature of your shower heads and faucets.
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The best way to keep babies and small children safe is to use a multi-part approach—and the first part is always supervision. Use the tips here as ways to supplement—not replace—a watchful eye.
As your child grows and develops new abilities—rolling, crawling, self-feeding, creeping, walking, climbing, opening doors—keep looking around for new risks so you can stay at least one step ahead.
As you develop your complete safety plan, consult several resources. Some good sources of information include cpsc.gov (Consumer Product Safety Commission), nsc.org (National Safety Council) and cdc.gov/safechild (CDC).
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