As your baby becomes more mobile, exploration will become the name of the game. Rocking, rolling and sitting will give way to crawling, climbing and cruising along the furniture. And then, walking and running.
Your child’s budding curiosity and inexperience, however, can prove to be a dangerous mix. Power cords, dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets, dish soap and the toilet are just a few household items that your child might touch, grab or try to climb onto in the coming months. Small toys, hot drinks, slippery surfaces and furniture with sharp edges also can pose hazards for your little explorer.
While trying to prevent injuries, you can take lots of steps to safeguard your home and keep your child safe outdoors. Here’s how to prevent injury in some of the most common areas of your home.
The kitchen is often the center of the home. Most parents spend a good amount of time there and it can be a fun place to do activities with your child. But the kitchen also can pose a number of hazards. Take these steps to prevent accidents.
- Find a safe spot for your child — When you need to spend time in the kitchen, consider placing your baby in a high chair with a few toys on the tray. For a toddler, fill a low kitchen cabinet with safe items to play with — such as plastic bowls and cups. You might place your child in a playpen in an adjoining room where you can see him or her
- Reduce water temperature — Set the thermostat on your water heater to below 120 F. If you bathe your baby in the kitchen sink, never run the dishwasher at the same time — in case hot water from the dishwasher backs up into the sink. Don’t run the faucet while your baby is in the sink.
- Safely store hazardous items — Keep sharp instruments in a drawer with a latch or a locked cabinet. Make sure appliances are unplugged and out of your child’s reach. Don’t allow electrical cords to dangle where your child could tug on them. Keep hazardous substances out of sight, out of reach and — whenever possible — in a high cabinet that locks automatically every time you close it. Hazardous substances in the kitchen might include dishwasher soap/pods, cleaning products, vitamins and alcohol.
- Avoid hot spills — Don’t cook, drink or carry hot beverages or soup while holding a child. Know where your child is when you’re walking with a hot liquid so that you don’t trip over him or her. Keep hot foods and liquids away from table and counter edges. Don’t use tablecloths, place mats or runners, which young children can pull down. When you’re using the stove, use the back burners and turn the handles of your pots and pans inward. Don’t leave food cooking on the stove unattended.
- Safeguard your oven — Try to block access to the oven. Place tape on the floor around the oven and call it a “no-kid” zone. Never leave the oven door open. If you have a gas stove, turn each dial to the off position and — if possible — remove the dials when you’re not cooking. Otherwise, use knob covers.
- Look around — Watch out for other situations that could be hazardous. Put away small refrigerator magnets, as a young child could choke on or swallow them. Address slippery or uneven surfaces and clean spills quickly. Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
Feeding your child is often a messy experience, but you don’t want it to be a dangerous one. If you use a high chair during feedings, always use the chair’s safety straps to buckle your child in. And before you feed your child, always check the temperature of the food. Never warm your baby’s formula or milk in the microwave. Food or liquids warmed in a microwave may heat unevenly and could contain hot spots.
Choking is a common cause of injury and death among young children, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed. It takes time to master the ability to chew and swallow food, and babies and even toddlers may not be able to cough forcefully enough to dislodge an airway obstruction.
Sometimes health conditions increase the risk of choking as well. Children who have swallowing disorders, neuromuscular disorders, developmental delays or a traumatic brain injury, for example, have a higher risk of choking than do other children.
To prevent choking:
- Don’t introduce solids too soon — Giving your baby solid foods before he or she has the motor skills to swallow them may lead to infant choking. Wait until your baby is at least 4 months old, preferably 6 months old, to introduce pureed solid foods.
- Stay away from high-risk foods — Don’t give babies or young children small, slippery foods, such as whole grapes and hot dogs; dry foods that are hard to chew, such as popcorn and raw carrots; or sticky or tough foods, such as marshmallows and chunks of steak.
- Supervise mealtime — Don’t allow your child to play, walk, run or lie down while eating.
Keep in mind that as young children explore their environments, they also commonly put objects into their mouths — which can easily lead to choking.
Swimming pools, hot tubs, ponds and other bodies of water are very dangerous to young children. Buckets of water, toilets and fish tanks also can be hazardous if kids climb in headfirst and are unable to get back out. Close supervision of a child around water is imperative. Multiple layers of protection can help ensure water safety and prevent drowning.
If you have a pool or hot tub, consider these general safety tips:
- Fence it in — Surround your pool or hot tub with a fence that’s at least 4 feet tall. Make sure slatted fences and openings under fences have no gaps wider than 4 inches, so kids can’t squeeze through. Install self-closing and self-latching gates with latches that are beyond a child’s reach. Make sure the gate opens away from the pool or spa. Check the gate frequently to make sure it’s in working order.
- Install alarms — If your house serves as part of your pool or hot tub enclosure, outfit any doors leading to the pool or hot tub area with an alarm. Consider adding an underwater alarm that sounds when something hits the water. Make sure you can hear the alarm inside the house.
- Block pool and hot tub access — If your house serves as part of your pool enclosure, use a power safety cover to block access when the pool isn’t in use. Always secure a cover on a hot tub when it isn’t in use. Sliding glass doors that need to be locked after each use aren’t effective pool or hot tub barriers. Remove aboveground pool steps or ladders or lock them behind a fence when the pool isn’t in use. In addition, empty inflatable pools after each use.
- Use life preservers — Young children should always wear life preservers when in a watercraft. Don’t use inflatable toys to keep your child afloat, since they can deflate suddenly or your child might slip out of them. Even if your child is wearing a life preserver, you always need to keep a hand on him or her while in the water.
- Beware of drains — Don’t allow children to play near or sit on a pool or hot tub drain. Body parts and hair may become entrapped by the strong suction. Use drain covers, and consider installing multiple drains to reduce the suction.
- Keep your eyes peeled — Never leave children unsupervised in or around a pool, pond or other body of water. An adult — preferably one who knows cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) — should always provide supervision. Don’t multitask while watching children in or near water.
- Keep emergency equipment handy — Keep pool safety equipment beside the Make sure you always have a phone in the pool area in case of an emergency.
Children get burned because they don’t know certain objects may be hot. To prevent burns, follow these burn-safety tips:
- Establish ‘no’ zones — Block access to the fireplace, fire pit or grill, so a child can’t get near it.
- Use space heaters with care — Make sure a child can’t get near a space heater. Also keep the heater at least 3 feet away from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater near someone who’s sleeping.
- Watch where you park — If you park in direct sunlight, cover the car seat with a towel or blanket. Before putting your child in the car seat, check the temperature of the seat and buckles.
- Lock up matches and lighters — Store matches, lighters and flammable liquids in a locked cabinet or drawer.
- Choose a cool-mist humidifier — Steam vaporizers can burn a child.
- Unplug irons — Store items designed to get hot, such as clothing irons, blow dryers and hair irons, unplugged and out of reach.
- Practice fire safety — Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, and regularly maintain all alarms in your home. Keep extinguishers near places where a fire might start.
It might seem as if everything in your home and yard poses a potential threat to your baby. But don’t panic. You can do plenty to childproof your home in a single afternoon or evening.
As your baby gets older, continue to stay on the lookout for new hazards. Go through your home from top to bottom every few months to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your child safe. Be alert when visiting new places and friends’ or family members’ homes. If your child is going to spend a lot of time at his or her grandparents’ homes, you might consider asking them to do some childproofing, too. The most important safeguard, though, is adult supervision.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second EditionShop Now
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