Baby Health and Safety Article

Baby-Proofing Your Child’s Environment










When it comes to baby safety, nothing is truer than the old adage: anything that can happen, probably will happen.

A dressing table mat that is not tied down can somehow slide off the table with your baby on it. The adorable stuffed monkey that guards his crib can fall across your baby's face.

Adopting a "Baby's-Eye" View

You won't need to do a thorough baby-proofing of your home until your baby begins to move around and grab things. But even during his first months there are dangers, and you should assess the safety of your baby's environment continually.

One way is to get down to his level and look around. Is the surface he is lying on secure? Are there small objects around him that could get into his mouth? Sharp objects he can grab?

Things to Look Out For
Some things to look out for during the first few months:

  • Things that could entangle your baby - curtains or curtain strings blowing too close to his crib or swing, for example.
  • Things that could obstruct his breathing - fluffy bedclothes or pillows, a mattress or sleeping mat that is too small, blankets used for support that have loosened, crib padding that is not tightly tied to the bars.
  • Smoke. Unlike you, your baby can't move out of harm's way. When you smoke around him, he gets even more of a hit than you do. Fanning the smoke does little to lighten this load.
  • Toxins. Paints, lacquers (even nail polish and remover), insecticides. Do not use them indoors or in the vicinity of your baby. A newborn's immune system is not yet developed, and these substances can be extremely harmful, even in small doses.
  • Sharp objects. Pencils, pens, cell phone antennas. Take them out of your pockets when handling your baby. Be extremely careful about using them with your baby in your arms.

Baby-Equipment Safety
When using baby equipment - cribs, changing tables, bassinets, swings, and infant seats - don't assume your baby is safe. With few exceptions, supervision is necessary.

Your best bet is to always use safety-certified equipment. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) sponsors a safety-certification program. Check for their seal.

  • Swings - Use only if equipped with a crotch restraint. Check that the swing base is sturdy. Many hand-me-down and foreign-made swings are unequipped with crotch restraints and have bent supports. Never leave your baby unattended in a swing.
  • Infant Seats -  Avoid setting an infant seat down on high surfaces, such as the top of a dresser or table, unless you are standing there with one hand on it. Never use an infant seat in place of an infant car-seat. Always use the safety straps that come with the seat, and never leave your baby unattended.
  • Bassinets - Make sure the bassinet has a sturdy bottom and is equipped with a snug mattress.
  • Changing Tables - Just because your baby is strapped to the changing table, don't be fooled into thinking she's safe. Never walk away. Falling from any height can cause serious injury.

Tangling Hazards
Newborn babies do not grab at things yet, but there is still a risk of strangulation when a baby becomes tangled in a cord or piece of clothing. Fortunately, this hazard is avoidable, especially if you use some forethought in baby-proofing your home. Once your baby can reach or grab for things, be wary of anything with a string or cord that he could get tangled in.

Here are some important ones and what you can do to look out for your baby's safety:

  • Keep the crib away from any cords.
  • Never use a lanyard (a looped cord) to hang your baby's pacifier around her neck.
  • Never hang toys on the crib with a string.
  • Use the crotch strap in strollers, high chairs, and baby seats; this keeps your baby from sliding down and strangling herself.
  • Baby clothes with drawstrings are illegal today, but in the past they were not. Be careful when accepting hand-me-down clothing.

Poisons and Other Toxic Substances
During your pre-baby life, you may have had a haphazard approach to the use, storage, and disposal of medicines, paints, and household-cleaning agents. Now that you share a house with your new baby, you'll have to use more caution. Here's a list of common items that could potentially harm your baby if ingested, inhaled, or rubbed in her eyes:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Cleaning products
  • Poison and insecticides
  • Hobby paints, glues, and other products
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes and cigarette butts
  • Lead, mercury, and carbon monoxide
  • Cosmetics

As with a number of safety issues, poisoning becomes a real problem when your baby begins to explore her environment, grabbing and putting everything within reach in her mouth. To protect against this, you should never leave a toxic or poison substance within reach, including on the counters or under the sink.

Lock them up in a high cabinet. Always use original packaging - which should be childproof - and dispose of old, unused medications and cleaners. Just in case, keep the phone number of your local poison-control center handy.

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can poison your new baby. Poisoning is immediate and can lead to death. Consider investing in a carbon monoxide monitor for your home. To insure your house is poison-free:

  • Make sure household appliances are installed properly.
  • Never use or service fuel or gasoline-burning equipment in your home.
  • Never leave your baby unattended in a running vehicle, or leave a vehicle running in an enclosed garage.

Lead
Lead is an elemental metal which can cause severe problems in the development of your child's nervous system. It may be in your family's home, including in some older paints, the soil, and some imported mini blinds.

Remove any lead paint and repaint with a lead-free variety (this is typically not a problem for houses built after 1978). Also monitor painted baby items for paint chips that she might swallow.

Pesticides
Commonly used ant and roach sprays, flea foggers and other pesticides contain highly hazardous toxic substances. They are especially harmful to babies, whose immune systems and nervous systems are very vulnerable to toxic exposures.

Never spray any sort of pesticide near your baby, or on carpets, furniture or equipment which your baby uses. Research now shows that there is no acceptable level of pesticide exposure in infants.

Lacquers and Paints
Household water-based wall paint is much safer than lead-based paints once were, but it can still contain harmful vapors. Do not paint or use lacquers with a baby in the room.

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