If you stop to count up all the possible dangers in a home it can start to feel impossible to keep a mobile baby safe. Baby-proofing is not a one-time process that removes every possible hazard. It’s a continual battle, a war of attrition as babies discover new dangerous and/or forbidden things in your house as fast as you can remove them. Baby-proofing is something we can all be concerned about, but it doesn’t need to be a total lock down of the house. I believe that we all need to be careful, but not so strict with proofing that the child does not have the freedom to move about the house. Children love to learn and explore–Encourage it! If you keep reading, this article is full of tips for foolproof baby-proofing.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about baby-proofing that you can apply in your home no matter what your budget is.
You Do Not Need To Rush Out And Spend Loads Of Money On Baby Proofing Items At Birth
I recommend baby-proofing as the child grows up. You will see what needs to be addressed and when. Sure, the outlets can get covers as electricity is a hazard, but when it comes to door knob covers or even gates, you can wait to install them until your child gets mobile.
There Is No Need To Put Everything You Love Into Storage
Teach your child what can be played with and what can not. Okay, it takes some watching to do it this way, but it also teaches your child to respect belongings, which is helpful when you are visitors at someone’s home.
Baby-proofing the Nursery
Let’s start in the nursery, a room where your little ones will spend much of their time. Hazards in and around the crib should be the top priority. You’ll want to address:
- Loose items in the crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a strong position on this one. The baby should be the only thing in the crib. Swaddling is fine, but no loose blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, or anything that could prevent air flow.
- Anything they can reach from the crib. Even before they can crawl, babies are able to scoot around in the crib. They can and will grab anything outside the crib that they can reach. Watch for loose curtains, mini-blind cords, electrical cords, and choking hazards. Secure any heavy objects that might tip over and fall into the crib.
- Climate control hazards. Maintaining a comfortable ambient temperature in the nursery is an excellent idea, but use extra caution with things that heat or cool the air. Point fans, vents, and especially space heaters away from the crib. Even from across the room, a space heater directed right at a crib will turn it into an oven.
We live in a world ruled by electricity, which creates all kinds of potential dangers for babies. I’m sure you already bought outlet covers, but that’s just a starting point. Unused outlets are easy to cover up. What about things that must remain plugged in? Luckily, there are outlet plug covers like the one from Kidco (pictured at bottom of article) that secure plugs and keep outlets safely covered up. See how the cord wraps around on the inside to prevent the plug from being pulled out?
While we’re at it, watch for dangling cords of any kind that could present a strangulation hazard: Mini-blind cords, curtain tie-backs, and too-long electrical cords. Rubber bands, twisty-ties, and tape can be used to secure these tightly out of reach.
Power Strip Safety Cover
Power strips and surge protectors are common in the household these days. They accommodate the power needs of all of your entertainment devices (TV, DVD player, DVR, etc.) and theoretically protect them from electric surges. Usually they’re crammed with an octopus of cords and a glowing orange or red light on the power button. A lot of things to catch your baby’s attention. A power strip safety cover is advisable if your power strip is less than 4 feet off the ground.
It works both ways, too: your electronics might need protection from your baby. No one wants to see the DVR unplugged in the middle of recording your favorite show!
Choking Hazards Require Constant Vigilance
A milestone in a baby’s development is the ability to pick something up and put it in his or her mouth. This will quickly become a favorite activity. Combine that with crawling and pulling up, and suddenly a world of small objects in your house are now choking hazards. Things that kids try to eat include:
- Small metal objects, like coins, keys, and screws from baby furniture. It might have been on the floor two seconds or five years. They’ll find it. It’s not just on the floor, either. Under couches, on coffee tables, in drawers that aren’t locked.
- Toys for older kids: marbles, Barbie brushes, Legos, etc. These require constant sweeps, because usually there’s an older sibling always scattering them about.
- Fallen food, especially popcorn, grapes, berries, seeds, and nuts. They’ll be able to eat these things eventually, but not now. They’re worrisome because your little ones see you eating them, and know that they’re food.
Walk-through Baby Gate
Your home has many physical dangers for babies, especially those crawling, pulling up, or walking. Even rolling over can be a dangerous new talent for your baby when practiced on the diaper changer or another place off the ground.
Stairs are a particular danger. Most parents know this, and take some steps to block access to these areas. That said, if the gate isn’t correctly installed/latched/positioned, your little ones will get around it. For this reason I highly recommend investing in good baby gates. I like Summer Infant’s walk-through baby gates pictured at the bottom of this article because they’re pressure-mounted (so you don’t have to screw them into a wall) but include a gate that you can walk through.
There is endless additional baby proofing that you can do to help prevent physical injuries, such as:
- Padding the edges and corners of tables, fireplaces, steps, and other things with sharp edges.
- Always using the safety belt/restraint in strollers, high chairs, Bumbo seats, diaper changers, and other places from which a baby could fall.
- Installing child-safe locks on drawers, cabinets, and doors, especially if they open to cleaning supplies, sharp objects, or outside.
- Reducing access to hard-to-baby proof rooms such as bathrooms (by keeping the door closed).
Do Not Feel The Need To Put A Lock On Every Cabinet Door
Move anything that shouldn’t be played with by a child (glass, etc) into a different cabinet and place the plastic down low so he/she can play without fear of being disciplined.
Baby-proofing doesn’t have to be hard, just effective. It also doesn’t need to be done before the baby is born – you have time. Proof things as the baby grows, it relieves the pressure of proofing and also allows your child to learn and grow. No baby proofing is ever enough.
Drawer & Cabinet Latches
Sure, letting kids play with utensils and pots and pans is technically harmless, but one does get tired of constantly washing those things. Especially when there’s a toy box or storage ottoman with perfectly good toys just 10 feet away. Consider installing long-reach Safety 1st Cabinet Latches. Do yourself a favor and get the long-reach drawer/cabinet latches. Otherwise, they’re very hard to install properly and with a short reach, you almost need one of your toddler’s little fingers to pop the latch open anyway. Which reminds me of a key rule for using drawer and cabinet latches: never let your little ones see how you open them. If they manage to figure it out (monkey see, monkey do, right?) then no cabinet is safe.
The first thing to do to instill a bit of control on your day is gate off the stairs, so that the kids have to stay on the same level. Plus, it reduces the chances that they’ll tumble down the stairs. The Regalo walk-through gates are my favorite because they are pressured (don’t have to be drilled/screwed into the wall) but allow you to lift and swing open the gate to walk through. What a lifesaver!
True, when you’re on one side of the gate and the kids are on the other (sometimes gripping the bars and crying at you), it does tend to make you feel like a bit of a prison master. But I remind yourself that it’s for safety and containment, not punishment.
Claim the High Ground
There was a time when the kids are crawling (not walking) that nearly anything above ground level was safe. As they grow, that’s no longer the case, as they’re capable of standing up and reaching on top of things. So you must establish which surfaces are within their reach, and which are still too high. Everything that’s unsafe, fragile, or valuable gets moved to the high ground. Make constant sweeps to recover errant cell phones, important papers, and other items that need to be kept out of reach.
Safety Trial & Error
If your little one just started pulling up on things and/or walking, there are some common-sense steps to take to make things a bit safer around the house:
- Top-heavy or tipp-able furniture. They’ll be pulling up on anything within reach. End tables, stools, and other tipp-able furniture should be removed or secured. In a pinch, you can sometimes gate these off to prevent your toddlers from reaching them.
- Hard or sharp edges. Even a sharp corner of a wall is dangerous to a bumbling toddler. Table corners are another concern because they’re often at a toddler’s head level. Low edges, such as the edge of a brick hearth or a single-step room transition, are also dangerous because toddlers can fall onto them.
- Cords, cables, and electrical hazards. Toddlers start reaching on top of and behind things to get at electrical cords and outlets. Devote a couple of “nap times” to securing cords with twisty-ties or rubber bands. And need I remind you about the dangers of mini blind cords? Get those things up and away from the floor.
I wish I could tell you that parents of toddlers develop a sixth sense for safety concerns and can spot all of them in advance. Sadly, this isn’t so. Toddlers are as unpredictable as the wind. The only way to know for certain that you’ve baby proofed enough is to let them loose and keep a sharp eye out.
Anyone who has had the distinct pleasure of living with a toddler knows that they are both fast and endlessly creative; turn your back on a 15-month-old and they are either sticking their fingers in an electrical outlet, fiddling with the stove knobs or trying to climb onto a dangerously tall dresser.
The logistics of having to be ever-watchful is hard to understand. Do you never shower? Never allow your child to be in a different room? And who the heck has kids that actually listen and don’t touch?
Baby proofing shouldn’t replace active and engaged parenting, shouldn’t replace teaching of good judgment and safety and about how humans can’t actually fly.
Hopefully these tips will help you keep your kids safe in the potentially-hazardous world that is your home.
Kids are Individuals
The point of all of this is that children are individuals. If your child is curious about what is behind cabinet doors, you might want to put locks on them (even if the things inside are child-safe… it might be annoying to constantly have to re-wash and put away everything in your kitchen). If your child likes shiny colorful objects, you might have to move them to higher ground so that they’re out of reach (OR come to terms with allowing your child to handle them).
Don’t Be Stupid
When you’re deciding what to baby-proof in your house, and what to house-proof in your child, a good line to draw is the degree of injury that’s possible. Electrocution can kill a kid, right? So baby-proof the hell out of your outlets. Toilet paper costs a couple bucks a roll and never killed anyone? House-proof that kid. Your paper shredder should absolutely have safety mechanisms on it. Basically? Don’t be stupid.
Electricity is powerful stuff, man. Heard of the electric chair? Zapppp, dead. This isn’t a place to take chances. Go around the perimeter of every room in your house (and be sure to get down on a low level, because sometimes there are less-obvious ones you might miss – like the one under our breakfast bar), and cover those electrical outlets. If you don’t have the budget to spring for anything fancy… just get the cheapy plug-in outlet covers you can buy in a package of a billion for a dollar.
There are fancier ones that will make it easier on your fingernails when you want to plug something in, with special release buttons, or self-closing self-opening outlets that magically know if the thing poking it is a real plug or if it’s a kid with a paper clip… I don’t know anything about those. I just have the cheaper ones and they work fine.
If you need to cover an outlet that has something plugged into it, there are covers designed to fit OVER the plug, snapping around the entire thing with a hole for the cord to come out of… we have one. It requires 2 hands and some curse words for me to get the cover off, so I think it works really well.
Wires and Power Cords
Think about why you’re worried about wires and cords. (Not the outlets/plugs themselves, which we covered above.) Is it because of a tripping hazard? Strangulation? Or maybe because if a kid pulls on that particular cord, a big appliance or electronic item will come crashing down on them. Each cord situation is a little different, and you have to decide how to deal with yours.
For some of the cords can be tucked them under the baseboards or secured with a few staples (the big kind you can hammer in AROUND the cord. Don’t go stapling through any cords!) so that they wouldn’t come free.
Others, like the cords for our lamp and iPod dock/speakers (both on the end table in the corner of the room), would more likely be strangulation hazards. We moved the couches closer together to sort of block off that whole corner, so that babies can’t get to the cords there at all. Definitely simpler than trying to attach the cords to the furniture and then the floor and back up to the outlet or something. Though I suppose that’s possible.
And cords for appliances or electronics that could be pulled down? We just try to keep those out of reach. The stand mixer in the kitchen is plugged into one of the outlets above the counter, not one below it. Our computers are charged out of reach, and our television cords are hidden behind the entertainment console.
You have two options here. You can put any toxins out of reach*, or you can lock the cabinets they’re stored in. Or both.
What counts as a toxin? Anything you would go, “Oh Crap!” and then google the number for poison control if your kid had a half-empty bottle of? That’s a toxin. My homemade all-purpose cleaning spray? It wouldn’t taste good, but it’s not a toxin. But a bottle of ibuprofen isn’t something I’d want to find out that my kid had chugged, so it goes out of reach. A bottle of Tums? Not a toxin. A bottle of bleach? Definitely a toxin.
Scissors, knives, saws, what have you… I know it’s probably obvious but I had to point it out. They should be out of reach or locked away.
One thing that might not be as obvious though is that when you’re in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, and you turn around to do something else… you need to remember to put the knife you’ve been using FAR into the counter-top, away from the edge.
Curious toddler hands may reach up and try to grab anything near the edge of the counter, and they won’t know whether they’re grabbing a dishtowel or a chef’s knife. Make sure it isn’t a chef’s knife.
A Child’s Perspective
Get on the floor and look around. I don’t mean kneel, or sit. I mean get down on your stomach, lie down, and slither around your house. (Well, you can get up and walk in between rooms/areas, but tummy-down is the best perspective for this.) Look at everything, and try to think like a child.
The shelf that just looks like a shelf to you, from an adult point of view? On the floor, suddenly each “level” of it becomes the rung on a very exciting ladder. The items at the top of the shelf are challenging you, taunting you, DARING you to climb. Make sure to secure this type of furniture to the wall, just in case.
The water cooler that just looks like a thirst-quencher to your adult mind? Now it’s primary-colored levers that Mommy likes to touch! I want to touch them too!! I need to reach up there! In the case of the cold water, this is a “house-proof your child” issue. In the case of the hot water, your child could get hurt, so it’s a good idea to make sure the one you buy has a child-safety feature.
Wires under furniture that you NEVER see as you walk around? Your kids see them and they look exciting. Push them far back enough so that they’re out of reach, or attach them to the backside of the furniture if possible, off the floor.
It can be tempting to see playpens, baby play yards, and baby gates as the simplest childproofing solution. Instead of worrying about your entire house, you just stick your kid in a “container” and they can’t get hurt.
This goes back to “house-proofing your child”… if your child has no mobility in your house, no independence, no opportunity to learn, the world is going to be a dangerous place. Because they won’t know any better. So while these things have their place and their use, it’s best not to rely on them.
HOWEVER, if you have stairs, you should absolutely gate them off! (This falls under “Don’t be stupid.”)
Somewhere between keeping your child in a cage all day and letting your child have free rein is your perfect balance. Only you can determine where that line is drawn.
No Children Allowed
It is OKAY to have grown-up-only areas. One room in our house is completely off-limits to the kids (unless in a play pen / ball pit). The office/sewing area is SO NOT CHILD SAFE… I have fabric scissors, a rotary blade, pins, needles, cords everywhere, the paper shredder, and so forth. At this point, it’s not even worth trying to make this room child-safe. Instead, it’s a kid-free zone.
There are no-entry zones in the real world too, and it’s important for children to learn to respect them. Just like we as adults know not to go into an “Employees Only” area in stores or restaurants, taped-off crime scenes, or construction zones, kids can learn that there are boundaries at home and in the bigger world too. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s life.
- Make sure that small objects are out of reach, as they are choking hazards.
- NEVER leave your child unsupervised around water, even for a minute. If you’re bathing your kid, and the phone or doorbell rings, ignore it or take the baby with you to answer. And yes, this includes the toilet.
- Teach your child about the stove and oven and potential burns.
- If you use tablecloths or table runners than hang over the edge, make sure nothing is on top of it that could hurt your child if he decides to yank on the dangling fabric. Remember to think like a child… it’s not a tablecloth when you’re crawling around on the floor. It’s an invitation.
- Make sure the pull cord on window blinds is secured out of reach. These can be strangulation hazards.
- Socks with grippy bottoms are great for beginning walkers, if you have slick floors. Barefoot is even better.
- Baby walkers are just not a good idea. They can cause many injuries (especially on uneven ground, or if there is a step to fall off of) and have no benefits.
- If you have a fireplace, there are tons of considerations to keep in mind. If it’s a gas fireplace, even if you have a glass “window” between the flame and the room, the window can get very hot. Make sure to have a screen blocking the glass, if the fire is or has been on.
- Store all matches and lighters out of reach* or behind a lock.
- Guns and ammunition should be stored SEPARATELY from each other, AND behind locks.
- Make sure that the plants in and around your house are not toxic when ingested.
There are so many more things to consider, based on your own house, your child’s personality, and so forth. But hopefully my list has given you a start! And remember, you don’t have to do all of the baby-proofing in a day. If you miss something, you can fix it later. If you don’t have the perfect solution to a baby-proofing quandary, find something that works “enough” for now, and change it when you’ve researched it better.
Baby proofing: Hidden Dangers You Might Miss
I think it’s fair to say that all parents are aware of the need to baby-proof their house, especially once their baby starts crawling, walking, and climbing. There are lots of obvious things parents jump to secure and lots of lists available to point out the main hazards and areas that need baby-proofing. But there are also lots of ways for your baby to get into trouble in your home that are often overlooking or the danger of which are underestimated.
Though falls and electrocution are usually the primary concerns for many families, and most readily addressed, a child between the age of 1 and 4 is actually most likely to be harmed from fire and burns, choking, drowning, or poisoning.
Of course you should place covers on the sharp edges of low tables, secure baby gates at the top of stairs, cover your electrical sockets, and limit the openings of windows to protect your baby from electrocution and falls, but don’t stop there!
Some Dangers That You May Have Overlooked:
- House fire: Make sure you have working smoke detectors.
- Oven and Stove: Consider putting a baby gate at the door to your kitchen, or if you can’t, a guard around the oven (which is often hot to touch) and stove-top (where saucepans can be pulled down).
- Tablecloths: Don’t use them until your baby is older, or tuck all the sides up. Baby can pull hot drinks and heavy objects onto herself.
- Hot drinks: Don’t underestimate how far you baby can reach or how high they can climb. Keep hot drinks off of low tables and well into the middle of higher tables. This goes for all small objects as well.
- TV: These days many households have flat-screen TVs that are easy to pull over but still heavy enough to cause serious damage. Keep your TV pushed well back from the edge of its table.
- Bookshelves: Anchor to the wall. They look great for climbing and can topple over and crush baby. Similarly, always keep drawers closed. An open set of drawers looks like a set of stairs to your baby.
- Fridge Magnets: Don’t forget how far baby can reach. Keep all magnets well above the height you baby could reach on their very best day. Don’t forget to keep checking how high this is; baby is getting taller all the time!
- Glass Doors: Well cleaned glass is invisible to your baby. Place stickers on the glass at their eye level – or dirty up the glass!
- Toilet: Your baby can drown in the toilet. Because they are so top-heavy if she looks inside she can tip in headfirst and drown within seconds. Keep a latch on the toilet and keep the door shut. Similarly, be mindful of a bucket you may use when mopping the floor. Never let it out of your site and remove as soon as you’re finished.
- Toys with beaded eyes: Many teddies have glass or plastic bead eyes that can be chewed off and become a choking hazard. Keep these toys for when your baby is older.
- Dishwasher: Look inside yours and you might find knives. Keep it shut and latched at all times. Best if you can have that gate on the kitchen door.
- Handbags: You may be used to putting any bags belonging to family members out of the way, but don’t forget those belonging to visitors. You have no idea what might be inside and many will have lotions you don’t want your baby swallowing and small items they could choke on. Designate a place up and out of the way where you can always ask guests to leave their possessions when visiting.
- Rubbish bins: Most families realize they need to latch a cupboard containing medicines or poisonous cleaning products, but don’t forget these bottles end up in the bin. There may also be small items in here that your baby could choke on. Keep your bin latched or behind a latched door.
This is not a comprehensive list of every way you can baby-proof your house, but a collection of tips that are sometimes left off more general lists or overlooked when baby-proofing freestyle.
One of the best things you can do to make sure you’ve covered all the bases in your home is to get down on your hands and knees and crawl around the house. From this angle you can see what might look interesting to your baby, where potential hazards are, as well as get an insight into what they can’t see easily.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of teaching your baby to listen to your instructions. While a 1 year old can’t be given complicated instructions they can understand “No” and if you use the right tone of voice and expressions (low and stern) they quickly learn to understand when they are about to touch or open or do something they aren’t meant to. There are, frankly, more hazards than you could ever 100% baby-proof for. While the major ones can be covered, there’s always going to be situations where a response to a well-timed “No” can save your baby from harm.
But here’s my #1 hot tip for keeping your baby safe: there are three words you must never forget
Supervision, Supervision, Supervision !
If you care enough about keeping your kids safe to read this entire article……you’re well on your way to creating a safe environment for your littlest family members.
Products Mentioned In This Article:
Note: See how the latch at right has a nice, flat “hook” at the end? Often this will simply catch the top of the cabinet, which means you don’t have to install the little white plastic “catch”. Another good reason to get the longer latches: fewer holes in your cabinets and fewer chances for installation error.
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