Before your baby begins to creep or crawl, you must baby-proof your house— that is, make it safe for curious little fingers. It is easy to put this job off, but if you do, you may find that while your baby is rapidly learning to move around, he is getting into everything. The best time to make your home safe for your baby is during your last trimester of pregnancy.
To baby-proof your house or apartment, take a crawling tour through every room to get a baby’s eye view. Remove anything that looks even remotely enticing or dangerous. As you move these items out of the way, replace them with interesting safe things your baby can play with. A stimulating environment contributes to the development of creativity in a child.
Among the things that you should do to make your house or apartment safe for your baby are:
House in general
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Check the batteries monthly and change them annually.
- Place fire extinguishers in areas of fire risk. Plan two escape routes and hold periodic fire drills.
- Elevate your gas hot water heater to 18 inches above the floor to reduce the risk of a flash fire in case of a flammable liquid spill. Store all flammable liquids in closed containers.
- Turn the water heater thermostat down to 120°F to protect against scalding.
- Check all your baby furniture for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) Safety Certification Seal to make sure that it meets the basic safety standards. Check for the seal before purchasing anything.
- Move your furniture away from the windows.
- Move furniture in front of as many electrical outlets as possible to protect against electrical shock.
- Insert plastic covers in all unused electrical outlets and put large boxlike covers over those that are in use. Replace outlet covers with childproof covers.
- Cover all unused telephone outlets with duct tape.
- Hide all electrical and telephone cords, as babies like to chew on them.
- Store your iron out of sight to prevent the baby from tugging on its cord and pulling it down onto his head. Never leave a hot iron unattended.
- Shorten the cords on all blinds and draperies, or cut the loop, to prevent strangulation.
- Replace all vinyl miniblinds that are imported and have a matte finish. These blinds may contain lead. If you are not sure about your miniblinds, check them with a home test kit.
- If your home is over 30 years old or you have secondhand painted furniture, strip and repaint any surface on which your baby might chew. The original paint may contain lead.
- Move ashtrays, pipes, cigarettes, matches, and lighters out of reach. Tobacco can be fatal when eaten by a small child.
- Unload and lock up all guns. Never keep a gun in a bedroom drawer or purse, and never let a small child see you using one.
- If you have any toxic houseplants, hang them out of reach, move them outside, or put them into loving “foster care.”
- Set aside a special utensil set for measuring and applying fertilizer to your houseplants. Do not use household utensils for poisons.
- Keep all exercise equipment closed up in a room away from the baby. Do not allow the baby to be near when you exercise.
- Put a safety doorknob cover or a very high lock on every door leading either outdoors or to an unsafe room, such as a sewing room, bathroom, or garage.
- Mark all sliding glass doors with decals and do not allow any heavy toys near them.
- Install a baby gate at the top and bottom of every staircase to prevent climbing and falling. Avoid accordion-style gates, which can trap an arm or leg. Gates with vertical slats or a mesh design are preferable.
- Install a gate across the doorway to keep the baby out of the kitchen when you are not there.
- Install safety latches on all cupboard doors that you do not want little hands to open.
- Put all vitamins, medicines, wastebaskets, plastic bags, glassware, knives, and other potentially dangerous items in locked cupboards.
- Move all wines and liquors to a locked cabinet. Do not leave leftover drinks sitting out where a toddler can find and drink them. Alcohol can be toxic.
- Move all household cleaners, detergents, and similar products out of reach.
- Put some safe kitchen items, such as plastic bowls and wooden spoons, in a low cabinet away from the stove for the baby to play with. This is to divert his attention from items that are not as safe and to keep him occupied while you are cooking.
- Tie plastic bags in knots and throw them away after use.
- Remove all tablecloths that toddlers can pull.
- Store appliances away from the edges of countertops. Unplug and wrap the cords.
- If your stove has knobs on a front panel, either remove the knobs or install knob covers when you are not using the stove.
- When the dishwasher is not in use, keep the door latched.
- When filling the dishwasher, position sharp utensils with the pointed ends down. Do not add detergent until you are ready to run the machine.
- Lock your medicine cabinet or move all toxic and dangerous medical supplies out of reach.
- Move perfumes, cosmetics, and other grooming products out of reach.
- Store all razors out of reach.
- Move the wastebasket out of reach.
- Pad the bathtub faucet to prevent bumps.
- Put adhesive nonskid decals on the bottom of the bathtub to prevent slipping.
- Install a lock on the toilet lid and always keep the lid down and the bathroom door closed. Toddlers can drown in a toilet.
- Replace the crib if its slats are more than 2 3/8 inches apart or if the rail, when raised, is less than 26 inches above the mattress support when the support is in the lowest position or, when lowered, is less than 9 inches above the mattress support when the mattress support is in its highest position. Cribs manufactured after 1974 meet all these requirements.
- Replace the crib mattress if it does not fit snugly in the crib.
- Position the crib mattress support at the highest position for your newborn. Lower the mattress support as the baby grows. Once the baby reaches 35 inches in height or can crawl out of the crib, put him in a regular bed.
- Be sure the locking latch that holds the side of the crib up is sturdy and cannot be released by a child. Always leave the side up when your baby is in the crib.
- Use a crib bumper when your child is an infant. It should be secured with at least six ties. To prevent strangulation, the ties should be no longer than 6 inches. Remove the bumper, as well as any pillows, when your baby can pull to a standing position.
- Do not leave stuffed animals in the crib when the baby is sleeping.
- Move the crib away from heaters, air vents, and drapery and Venetian blind cords. For warmth, put the crib against an inside wall.
- Do not hang glass mirrors or picture frames on the wall above the crib.
- Choose a changing table that is sturdy and has a 2-inch guardrail on all sides and a safety strap.
- Store diaper pins, cotton balls, baby oil, and talcum powder out of the baby’s reach. Keep these items away from other young children, as they may try to powder the baby.
- Move all toys that have small parts or sharp points to a shelf that the baby cannot reach but that your older children can.
- Discard all stuffed toys and dolls that have eyes, noses, mouths, or other features that might come off. Embroidered features are the safest; sewn or glued parts can be pulled off.
- Do not use lightweight hammocks without spreader bars to store toys. They can cause strangulation.
Garage or workroom
- Move all pesticides, paints, and petroleum products to a high shelf or locked cabinet. Do not store them in containers such as soft drink bottles or food jars that could cause them to be confused with something else.
- Move dangerous tools out of reach.
- Put small items such as nails, screws, and bolts in closed containers.
- If you have an old automatic garage door opener, replace it with a model that has an electric eye or that is programmed to stop and reverse if the door touches an object before reaching the ground. Test the door by using a roll of paper towels to simulate a small child. The door should reverse within 2 seconds.
- Remove any poisonous plants. These include oleander, daffodils and other narcissuses, caladium, elephant’s ear, English ivy, castor bean plants, common lantana, nightshade, rosemary pea, pokeweed, foxglove, Carolina yellow jasmine, jatropha, gloriosa lily, dieffenbachia, hyacinth, holly, mistletoe, Jerusalem cherries, azaleas, angel’s trumpets, poinsettias, philodendron, and rhododendron. Your local Poison Control Center can identify other toxic plants for you.
- If you use pesticides or herbicides on your yard, follow the instructions carefully. Do not allow a child on a treated lawn for at least 48 hours.
- If you have a pool, block it off with a tall, sturdy fence with a self-locking gate. Many states require this by law. Hot tubs and spas should be covered when not in use. Also, make sure that you have the proper lifesaving equipment on hand.
- Even if your child is a good swimmer, keep an eye on him when he is in or near your pool or hot tub. Drains and intake valves in pools and hot tubs can draw in water at great pressure, entangling long hair and trapping a child under water. If the drain cover is broken or dislodged, your child could become sucked into or held onto the drain, and trapped under water.
- Use caution when placing your infant in a swimming program that involves dunking or repeated submergence. Swallowing large amounts of water can dilute his blood and cause a life-threatening condition known as water intoxication. Also, infants can develop severe diarrhea from the bacteria in the water from other babies’ diapers. Additionally, even if your child has been through a swimming or life-saving program, do not expect him to remember how to swim or “float” from year to year. The techniques need to be reinforced frequently.
- Discard or store out of reach any large containers in which rain or sprinkler water can collect. A child can drown in a 5-gallon bucket.
- Remove any clothes with hoods or strings when your child plays on playground equipment. A hood or string can get caught on the top of a slide or entangled in a swing chain.
- Do not allow your infant or toddler to suck or chew on the bars of playground equipment, which may contain lead. For information about lead, click here.
When you take your child to someone else’s house, check for these same hazards.