I have many clients ask me about the basics of babyproofing. Babyproofing has become an industry unto itself, and it can be easy to get caught up, feeling like you have to purchase every item on the market. There are even babyproofing specialists who can come into your home and get the job done, and many hotels now offer the service for your hotel room!
Let me start by saying that you certainly do not need to buy every babyproofing product out there, but having some common sense and doing a few “must-haves” can really make this task an easy one. Clients also frequently ask me about when they should start babyproofing their home. In all honesty, it’s best to start right away. Although it is almost impossible to imagine your newborn baby crawling around and getting into your things, that moment comes before you know it, and having some of the hard work out of the way early is a lifesaver.
Top 10 Things you Must do When Babyproofing
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I recently came across a study reviewing cases of pediatric accidental ingestion of medications and ‘medications found in luggage’ was one of the significant sources of access to medications. Be sure to remind visitors in your home to keep their medications out of reach, and do the same with your own when you travel.
Start by locking up all chemicals, cleaning products, medications, and other potentially hazardous items. This is one of the “musts” on our list. Many infants and children suffer from accidental ingestion of dangerous chemicals or medication overdoses because people often overlook this crucial safety step. Many medications, some cleaning products, and even mouthwashes can be enticing for little ones, and since we all know that babies love to put anything and everything into their mouths, it’s important to make these items off-limits. If you have cleaning products or medications that you use/take regularly, it’s a good idea to make sure that whatever babyproofing lock you choose to use is easy enough for you to actually use! I am known to tell clients, “If it’s hard to use, you won’t use it”, and that is an obvious example of an ineffective product in this important safety arena.
- Make sure that accessible stairways are properly gated. It is important to place a solid, screw-in (not pressure bound) gate at the top of almost every staircase in the home. I say “almost every staircase” because it is not necessary to place a gate at the top of a one or two step drop-down into another room, or to place a gate at the top of a basement (or any other) stairway that has a door at the top. (This being said, any doorway that is immediately followed by a stairway should be locked with a babyproof or other locking mechanism.) Again, like chemicals and medications, stairways are often an extremely hazardous part of the home with young children getting injured after falling down a flight of stairs. Stairwells that are not immediately accessed by your children do not require a gate at the base of the stairway, but if your main, large stairwell is in a place where your child will have very easy access, a gate at the base may be useful. In addition, as I mentioned at the beginning of this section, it is important that the gates used at the top of any staircase be screwed into the wall. Gates held into place only by pressure can be pushed down, and your child may tumble after the gate. Gates with a doorway are also best for the top of stairs to facilitate a safe way to descend!
- Turn Your Water Heater Down to 120 F or Below. Hot water can severely burn your child. Make sure that your water heater is not set any higher than 120 F. This is a must!
- Plug All Outlets. It is fairly easy to go around and plug up outlets with covers. If you can very easily remove the outlet covers, so can your child. Many people choose to use screw-in covers, and those tend to be the absolute safest choice. Pay extra special attention to outlets in your child’s bedroom, playroom, and other spaces where your child spend the majority of his/her time.
- Choose Window Blinds Without Cords. There has been a lot of press in the recent years surrounding fatal injuries caused by corded window blinds. It is important to refrain from using corded blinds in your child’s bedroom, and advisable to stay away from these blinds in the house if possible. If you have corded blinds, check and make sure that the cords are out-of-reach, and check with the company to see if there were any safety recalls. Products that wind and protect cords are also available.
- Watch Your Electric Cords. It is impossible to avoid having electric cords from various devices, lamps, etc, but be mindful of where they are, and what safety precautions you are taking to ensure that your child cannot become entangled. Make sure you never place a lamp cord anywhere near where your child’s crib, and avoid leaving any cords lying around. Use cord covers to protect large cords and power strips.
- Cover Reachable Stove Knobs. If you have a stove/oven with knobs or buttons within reach, it’s important to cover these knobs. Knob covers are available and easy to use. Covering and protecting knobs from your child’s reach have obvious fire safety reasons, but an added hazard comes with gas ranges. Children are able to turn the knob to release the gas, but not ignite the flame. Don’t risk this one! You can also purchase oven locks if your child has easy access to the oven and you bake often.
- Mount Heavy Dressers, Bookshelves, and TVs to the Wall. Children like to climb. It’s important that heavy furniture items and TV sets are bolted to the wall so that your child cannot pull these items down onto him/herself. This is especially important when your child is starting to pull-to-stand. Children in the early standing stages tend to almost compulsively try to pull up on anything, and having potentially dangerous items secured is crucial.
- Get rid of choking hazards. Make sure that all small items are put away and out of reach. Things such as marbles, coins, screws, batteries, and just about any item that is small enough to get lodged inside a tiny throat can be potential choking hazards. If you have older children who play with toys and games with small pieces, find a high shelf or a secured box where you can store these choking hazards, and make sure you allow your older child “special time” to use these toys!
- Don’t be afraid to say “no!”. In an era where many parents strive to utilize cooperative or positive disciplinary measures, oftentimes these same folks can struggle with the ability to say “no!”. When your child is doing something potentially dangerous or dangerous, it is important to remember that you are indeed the parent, and parents must set limits…especially in times of danger! Say “no”, inform your child why, tell them you “love them”, and move onto the next activity.
A Few Extra Important Babyproofing Tips
Now that the crucial “must-do” items for babyproofing have been covered, let’s focus on the remaining areas that you will need to assess in order to determine if and what other things you need to “babyproof”. I like to tell parents that they should spend about 15 minutes or so actually crawling around the floor of their home. It’s amazing how much you can discover at baby-eye-level! Watch out for things that look enticing, but are a safety concern.
- Assess Bathrooms. If your child’s bedroom has an en-suite bathroom, it will be more important to really babyproof that room. Toilets are intriguing to little people, and can present a drowning risk. Toilet locks are available and advisable if your child will be able to access a bathroom without supervision, and/or you cannot place a childproof lock on a bathroom door.
- Lock Up Certain Cabinets and Drawers. I like to tell my families to watch and see what their child does in terms of going into kitchen cabinets and drawers. Some kids love to get into everything, pull out every pot and pan, etc. If this is a problem, lock up certainly cabinets. It’s a great idea to leave a drawer and/or cabinet for your child to explore. Place plastic Tupperware or your children’s dishware and utensils into it, knowing that they will make a mess. Make sure that you place all sharp items (knives, etc) and really heavy pots and pans into locked cabinets. It’s important that your child cannot pull a very heavy item down upon his/herself.
- Check Your Windows. Make sure that if you have a window that can be reached by your child, that you place a device inside the frame to prevent your child from opening the window.
- Block Off Fireplaces. If you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace that is in a heavily used play space or bedroom, make sure that there is a sturdy gate surrounding the fireplace to prevent burning. Children love to watch and get up close to fireplaces because they are inviting and magical-looking. Make sure that this is a safe space.
- Determine if Your Child Can Reach and Use a Door to the Outside. A surprising number of young children quickly learn that they are able to let themselves out of the house without assistance. If this occurs, it carries obvious dangers, but can be a very scary experience for any parent. Assessing whether your child can and will let themselves out, is an important step in determining if you need to put a childproof lock on the inside of said door(s).
- If you Frequently Use Hot Plug-in Electric Appliances, take caution. Make sure that all irons, hair dryers, hair irons/curlers, and tabletop appliances like cooktops, toaster ovens, rice cookers, etc are out of reach from any little hands. Small children frequently acquire burns from these electric appliances, and it is important to use and store these items carefully.
- Watch Out for Boiling/Hot Water and Beverages. Like in #5, make sure that any boiling water pots or kettles, or hot beverages are out of reach. Do not let anyone drink a hot cup of coffee or tea while holding your baby…this is a recipe for a burn.
- Have the Phone Number for Poison Control. If something were to happen, it is important to know who to call and when. Having the number for poison control somewhere that is easily accessed can be a lifesaver (literally) in the case of an ingestion. The National Poison Control Hotline is (800) 222-1222.
All of this information can seem overwhelming and even scary at times. That is normal! Do not let these feelings prevent you from taking the necessary steps to ensure that you child is safe in your home and other frequently used/visited environments. Talk to anyone that watches your child about these babyproofing ideas, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Start early; before your child begins to become mobile! By the time he/she can move around, you’re already in for potential trouble.
Finally, it is important to remember that there is no substitute for watching your child. It is easy to forget that even though you’ve gone through and made your child’s play-space a safe one, accidents can happen. This does not mean that you have to be touching, holding, or directly interacting with your child continuously, but it’s a good idea not to let a young child out of your eyesight for any length of time.
Good luck with the challenges of babyproofing your home. This is all part of this new and crazy parenting adventure! And, who knows, crawling around on the floor looking for things to get into might actually provide a bit of fun!