You want to keep your baby safe no matter what her age. But while some general principles of safety will remain the same, the specifics change as she develops. With each new skill, you'll need to look at her environment again, so she can exercise those new abilities safely. You'll need to know what poses a risk to your baby at any given age, as well as how best to avoid those risks. Click on your baby's age to find out which dangers to watch out for and which precautions to take.
Newborns put their energies into eating, growing, and taking in the world around them. They can't move much on their own and need lots of watching and holding.
- Make sure your baby isn't scratching his face with his fingernails. Trim them with a special baby nail cutter or a small cuticle scissors. Do it when he's asleep -- it'll be easier for you, and it won't bother him. With trimmed nails he'll be ready to feel things and learn from those little fingers. Mittens aren't needed except for cold weather and aren't recommended, as they prohibit your baby from feeling his world.
- Even newborns can roll over unexpectedly. Keep one hand on your baby at all times, especially when bathing him or changing his diaper. Use the straps on the changing table to help.
- Always support your baby's head with one hand, or make sure his head is well supported by whatever device you're carrying him in. He's top heavy.
- Make sure your baby's crib or bassinet meets all current safety requirements.
- Always put your baby on his back to sleep.
- Be sure his bedding is firm no pillows, fluffy comforters, or stuffed animals.
- Keep his sleeping area at a normal temperature. Don't overheat him.
- Bring him home from the hospital in a federally approved car seat, properly installed, facing backward in the back seat. Use a car seat for every trip. For more information on car seats, click here.
- Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F.
- Put smoke detectors in the room where your baby sleeps.
- Never hold a baby while also holding a hot drink.
- Never smoke around a baby.
Keeping your baby's environment hazard-free is healthier for her and easier for you. Often, accidents happen to children this age because their parents are so exhausted and their guard is down. If you take the time to set your household up right, it will be easier to relax and focus on your new family's needs.
- Make sure your crib adheres to the latest crib safety guidelines. Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart to prevent your baby from getting her head caught between them. Click here for more on crib safety.
- Make sure your baby's bedding is firm and flame resistant. Pillows and down comforters are too soft and fluffy and could pose a smothering risk for a young infant. Keep these items and stuffed animals out of the crib. Do not use water mattresses for babies and small children.
- Your baby doesn't need to drink any extra water. Don't give honey to a young infant, either.
- Always put your baby to sleep on her back.
- Have all supplies at hand when you diaper your baby so you don't have to reach for them or otherwise take your hand off her while changing diapers.
- If your baby doesn't sleep in your room, an intercom system will let you hear her cries, especially if her room is far away or on another floor.
- Always use an approved infant car seat. For a baby this age and size, the car seat should face backward and be placed in the middle of the back seat. If you can't afford a federally approved car seat, talk to your health care provider about how to locate a free or inexpensive car seat. Click here for more information on car seats.
- If you use an infant seat or swing, be sure it's safe, set up correctly, and that the baby is strapped in. And be sure your baby is buckled into a swing or infant seat every time you use one.
- Never prop a bottle. Always hold your baby while you feed her.
- Keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible. If she's outside, use a hat and clothing to cover her up.
- Never shake a baby. If you feel stressed out or upset, put the baby down and let someone else deal with her while you calm down.
- Make your baby's room off-limits to pets.
Your baby's wriggling, rolling, and other adorable moves mean that keeping a steady hand on him is more important than ever. Support his head whenever you change his position, especially when you're bathing him. If you use an infant seat, keep it on the floor in a safe place, and buckle your baby in every time he's in it.
- Make the baby's room off-limits for your pet(s). Any animal can be unpredictable around a small baby.
- If your baby doesn't sleep in your room, an intercom system will let you hear his cries, especially if his room is far away or on another floor.
- Make sure his crib has firm bedding and slats that are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. Keep large stuffed animals and pillows out of the crib, where they could potentially fall over your baby's face and hinder his breathing.
- Always use an approved infant car seat. The car seat should face backward and be placed in the middle of the back seat. Be sure it is installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you can't afford a federally approved car seat, talk to your health care provider about how to locate a free or inexpensive car seat.
- A front pack is great for a 2-month-old. Be sure it has good head support for your baby and is comfortable for you.
- An infant swing is helpful at this age as well. Be sure it is stable and in good repair, and that it is set up in a safe, visible place. Be sure to strap your baby in each time you use it.
- "Back to Sleep" is still the rule.
- No jogger strollers yet -- too much bounce. Be sure the stroller or carriage you use meets safety standards and that your baby is strapped in and protected from the sun.
- Don't hold a baby and a hot liquid at the same time.
- Keep your baby's environment smoke-free.
- Although you're allowed to hold an infant during plane trips, it's not very safe to do so. Just as in the car, your baby's top-heavy shape will make him act like a bullet, shooting out from your arms if there's trouble. Consider purchasing a real seat or traveling at off-hours to improve your chances of getting an empty seat next to your own, and bring the car seat. Be sure to buckle it into the plane seat.
Your safety sphere must now expand to include everything within your baby's grasp. Make sure anything reachable is safe for her hands and mouth, since that's where most things will end up. She's become an expert grabber, and as she gets better at snatching and holding things, she may get into more trouble as well.
- Move appliances, breakables, and cords away from bathing and diaper-changing areas.
- If your baby is very active, start changing her diapers on a lower surface. Spread a clean towel on the bed and change her there. Otherwise, make sure you keep one hand on her at all times during changing -- one quick twist and she'll be on the floor.
- Lower the crib mattress to the middle notch.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using baby walkers. They are dangerous and don't help a baby learn to walk any faster.
- Use a car seat for every outing in any car, including Grandma's or the sitter's.
- Place the car seat in the middle of the back seat, facing backward. For more car seat safety information, click here.
- Check the temperature in the back seat frequently on long trips by periodically sitting there yourself. Also, don't forget to stop and feed the baby.
- Bathing is more exciting than ever. Keep the soap, lotions, and oils completely out of your baby's reach, but within reach for you. Check the water temperature at every bath, and cover faucets so they can't burn your baby's tender skin.
- An infant seat isn't safe at this age, as your baby can tip it over. Pass it on to a pregnant friend or relative.
- Bassinets and cradles may need to be retired, too. Most are too small and tippable to be safe.
- Many babies are ready for a backpack carrier. Before each outing, attach straps and lower the seat sling so your baby is settled well into the carrier.
- Long hair and jewelry are favorite targets for little hands. You might want to reconsider your hairstyle and accessories.
- Your baby enjoys outings now. Make sure she has good protection: cute hats, long sleeves, and a touch of sunscreen on her face and hands. Remember that sun can harm your baby's skin even when it's cloudy or cold. Sunscreen should never be used as a substitute for protective clothing. Keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Your baby learns about the world at this age by touching and tasting everything. He is getting very adept at grabbing whatever catches his eye and putting it in his mouth. This includes necklaces, earrings, glasses, your hair, and anything else on your person that looks interesting to him. For his safety, you'll have to re-channel this relentless curiosity. This will be easy once you've baby-proofed your home and have a variety of safe toys for him to explore. For more information on how to baby-proof your home, click here.
- Cribs: It's time to get rid of all attachments, large toys, and bumper pads.
- High chairs: Once your baby starts eating solid food, it's time to get him a high chair. This is a great way for him to sit with the family at the dinner table and watch you eat, even as he smears and squishes his food all over the tray.
- Make sure the high chair has a broad enough base to be very stable on the floor. Also make sure it has a safety belt to hold your little wiggler. Use the belt or the automatic restraint every time your baby's in the chair, and keep the chair away from counters or tables so your baby can't grab anything.
- Don't forget that your baby can now grab anything that catches his eye. Keep cutlery and glasses out of his reach.
- Walkers: Don't use them. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using infant walkers for a number of reasons. Walkers don't help babies learn to walk any faster than they normally would -- they just help them get into more trouble faster.
- Strollers: Your baby will want to be upright for most outings, so be sure he can, and that your stroller base is solid and safe. Use the safety straps every time.
Your baby loves to go outside these days. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when you take him out.
- Remember that your baby can reach and grab for things you can't see when he's on your back in his backpack. Always be aware of your surroundings: bushes, trees, even groceries.
- Don't let your baby eat leaves, rocks, or dirt he finds in the park. Create a clean sitting space.
- Remember that sun can harm your baby's skin even when it's cloudy or cold. Use sunscreen at every outing, though it should never be used as a substitute for protective clothing. Dress your baby in light cotton clothing that covers him, and make sure he's wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Then lightly apply sunscreen to his hands, feet, face, and other exposed areas. Keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Playpens offer a safe place for your baby to explore. Be sure your playpen meets safety standards, and that he can't climb out. Keep your playpen in a safe, open place. Older playpens may have sides that collapse. Check yours out with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And don't forget that mesh openings should be less than 1/4 inch wide.
- When giving your baby solid food, put small portions in a bowl or on a plate. Don't dip his spoon into the jar unless you know he's going to eat it all. Saliva spreads bacteria, and the remaining food will quickly spoil in the jar.
- Keep all the utensils you use to prepare your own baby food very clean. Freeze food portions you don't plan to use right away.
- Avoid honey, hard foods, and leaving bottles in your baby's crib. Don't prop your baby's bottle or let him feed himself.
A good rule of thumb once your baby reaches 9 months: Don't take your eyes off her for a second! Because she's now mobile, she's an unstoppable exploring machine. This is healthy and natural, but you need to make sure her environment is safe. Because you can't count on her to stay where you put her, your baby-proofed territory will have to expand.
- Because your baby is so active, now is the time to start changing her diapers on the floor or a bed instead of a higher surface, if you haven't made this switch already.
- Keep dangling draperies or shade cords up and well out of reach. Make a new hook or shorten the cord.
- Your baby is now into everything. To preserve her safety and your peace of mind, adjust your interior decoration to "Baby Lives Here." Remove the plants, books, and knickknacks you don't want her to get into. It's better than yelling "No!" at her constantly, and you'll never catch her every time. Besides, her memory is very limited at this age.
- Plug up all electrical outlets and cover all sharp furniture edges. Use safety latches on all lower cupboards. Move cleaning products to a high cabinet out of reach -- they're very dangerous. A latch isn't good enough in this case.
- Get in the habit of pushing all cups, plates, and cutlery away from the edge of a table when you get up.
- Tablecloths will tempt your baby to pull everything down on her, so let your table go au naturel.
- Get rid of insect traps, repellents, and poisons on the floor.
- Your baby is likely going to try to sample dog and cat food, so put them out of reach. A litter box looks like fun to an infant, too, so keep it safely out of the way.
- Always empty scrub buckets, basins, and other liquid containers before you leave them. A baby can drown in even the smallest amounts of water.
- Remember to use sunscreen on every outing. Broad-brimmed hats provide protection from the sun and heat. It's best to keep your baby out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when its rays are strongest.
- Backpacks are great for babies this age but be aware of the space around you. Lots of things will be within your baby's reach. She'll also get adept at standing on the frame. Bring her feet forward around you at the start of your trip.
- Public parks, lawns, playgrounds, and beaches contain many dangerous little objects, such as cigarette butts, soda tabs, peanut shells, and worse. Inspect the area before you put your baby down. She'll find anything you miss, especially the tiny items.
- A car seat is a must for every car outing. Buckle your baby up every time.
- Get creepy -- crawl around the house and see the world from your baby's perspective. Look for dangers in all the interesting nooks you can see from this vantage point.
- Although it's tempting to teach your baby to swim at this age, don't. Swimming lessons for children under 4 years are not recommended and can lead to dangerous water intoxications.
What a year it's been! Now your child is becoming upright, and you'll need to be more vigilant than ever. You can't contain him, and you wouldn't want to. Set up his environment so you can watch him easily during his explorations.
- Your toddler's crib mattress should be set low enough that he can't get out. The top rail should be at his shoulder or chin. Check your crib manufacturer's assembly instructions for how to lower your mattress board. Remove all bumpers and large toys that could assist with an escape.
- Position the crib away from lamps, shades, cords, and glass-framed pictures that your curious toddler could grab, as well as other furniture he could use to make his escape. Move the crib away from windows, too.
- Try to have a soft surface on the floor beneath the crib (a soft rug or pad) for when your baby learns how to climb out. Toys thrown overboard won't break as easily, either.
- Your child now loves to open and close doors. Watch his fingers! Latch any doors that lead to off-limits places, like the bathroom.
- One-year-olds can also crawl down stairs. Put bolted gates at the top and bottom of all staircases.
- Use plastic dishes your toddler can't break while feeding himself. Keep glass and sharp utensils out of the way.
- Keep toddlers away from all moving machinery, including lawnmowers, power tools, garage door openers, and kitchen appliances. Toddlers often can't stop, even when they hear a "no."
- Be sure electronic equipment and cords are completely out of reach.
- Make sure windows and screens are secure. You can put stops and locks on them to keep your toddler from pushing them open and falling out. Put up a fence in the backyard or play-space to help you keep track of your child. Put a lock on the gate.
- Many plants, both indoor and outdoor, are poisonous. Your local poison control center or garden center can tell you which plants you shouldn't have around the house and yard. If your child eats part of a plant, call your health care provider or poison control center right away. If you're asked to bring your child in for an examination, be sure to bring along the leaves, berries, and blossoms of the plant.
- Watch your toddler at the park. Moving play equipment is usually too dangerous for him unless he's on your lap. He can't be relied upon to hold on. The same thing is true for amusement park rides.
- Caution your toddler, and keep him close to you when an unknown animal approaches. Toddlers are very erratic and may upset even the most placid of dogs. Never leave your toddler alone with a pet.
- Do a visual sweep of beach, camping, and park areas. Your toddler will spy strange objects and put them in his mouth faster than you can grab them.
- All toddlers run off and love to be chased. Get your running shoes on and be ready! Don't let him run in parking lots, on sidewalks, in stores, or at restaurants. "Hold my hand" should be the rule.
- Some toddlers can crawl out of a car seat and think it's fun. Deal with this promptly and firmly. Your toddler MUST stay strapped in his car seat while you are driving. This can be a matter of life and death.
- If you ride a bike with your child, get a bike helmet for him that fits securely and use it on every bike ride. Be sure to wear one yourself. Make sure you use an approved bicycle seat, too.
- Never give a moving toddler food. Have him sit down while eating. Avoid choking foods at all times.
- Keep shoes or sandals on your child when at the beach or park. Little feet can get hurt or burned easily.
- Don't let your toddler wander around restaurants. He'll get into trouble or cause trouble for the staff and other customers.
- Never force-feed a child. He'll choke or get too heavy.
- When visitors arrive, place their purses and luggage containing medicine up and away.
This age may be the most challenging when it comes to keeping your child safe. She's constantly on the move and is driven toward increasing independence from you. She's a real dynamo, but doesn't yet have the maturity to know what can hurt her or the memory to recall the rules. Don't be surprised to find her climbing on counters to reach cabinets and trying to navigate stairs by herself. Her curiosity will take her places you never thought she'd go. And she loves to tease you by running away.
- Keep iron tablets and all other vitamins up and away. Since they look like candy and aren't in childproof bottles, they can be dangerous.
- Be sure your child's bed is safe. If she is coordinated and big enough to climb up and out of her crib, get a crib extender that she can't climb over. If the crib is low enough to the floor, you could take the rails off. Or maybe it's time to get her a small bed of her own with a "youth rail."
- Make the floor your diaper-changing table. It's easier and safer to change a wiggly toddler's diaper on the floor.
- Grownup toys are fun! At least, that's what your toddler thinks. Children can get themselves caught in various machines, from kitchen appliances to garage doors. Make sure you can see that your child is safely out of the way when the automatic garage door comes down, for example. And keep remote controls for the door out of your child's reach.
- Don't leave unfinished or unattended alcoholic drinks around your house, even during a party. Even small amounts of alcohol can harm a small child.
- If there are smokers around, keep ashtrays out of reach and have the smokers go outdoors.
- Turn off the TV. Children under 2 have little to gain and much to lose if they're glued to the tube.
- Post your local poison control number or emergency room number at every phone.
- Brush your child's teeth every day. Put only a small amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush, about the size of a pea.
Although your 2-year-old has calmed down a bit in the past six months, he's still very busy and must be watched all the time. He gets into things quickly, so it's crucial to make his environment safe. He still needs your help to find a new activity once you've moved him away from a forbidden one with a "no." He shouldn't be expected to do it on his own. Expect your child to climb up on anything, anywhere. You now have to look at the heights in your house.
- Your 2-year-old's room must be a place where he can be left alone safely, so give it special scrutiny: Secure shelves, make sure windows are safe, check for dangling cords, and remove any unsafe toys and breakables.
- Examine all playground equipment closely. There should be a soft surface underneath, such as vinyl mats or bark. Your child should not be able to get higher than 3 feet above the surface without you holding onto him. Keep in mind that wooden equipment can splinter and that old equipment may not be safe; it might even be coated with lead paint.
- On bike trips, your toddler should ride in a federally approved bike seat behind a parent, securely belted in at all times. He should always wear an approved child helmet.
- Check your garage carefully. Toxic substances and heavy or motorized equipment can endanger a toddler. Either carefully supervise play here or make it a "nobody under 3 feet tall" zone.
- Every day should start with sun block on your toddler's exposed body parts. Unbreakable, polarized sunglasses should be used for sunny outings, and don't forget the hat!
- Two-year-olds are unsafe on stairs; block stairs at top and bottom. Be sure your gates are sturdy enough for your 2-year-old.
- Never encourage your child to go to someone he hasn't met until he is comfortable, which will probably be after he's seen you talking and interacting amiably with the new person.
- Teach your toddler to stay away from new animals until you're sure that the animals are comfortable and safe with small, unpredictable children. A feisty 2-year-old can spook even the mellowest of pets.
- Teach your child the correct name for his genitals. Let him know that only family, doctors, and nurses should ever touch these "private parts."
- Two-year-olds can tip lightweight strollers. Adding weight to the back will help, but mostly you need to watch him.
Special Safety Tip
Most mishaps and accidents happen at the end of the day, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., when everyone is tired. Accidents are also more frequent when your regular routine is upset, such as when visitors come over and during outings and vacations. Be careful during this time and try to avoid fatigue for both you and your toddler. Make an effort to slow down and open up more space in your schedule.
Playing is how 3-year-olds learn. And they play constantly! Although 3-year-olds are a bit more predictable than 2-year-olds, they still need close supervision as they play and socialize. Their growing curiosity and imagination can lead them into new sorts of trouble. Following older children or getting in cahoots with a buddy can also add to the possibilities.
Make sure your child is safe by following these guidelines:
- If you have outdoor play equipment, make sure it's sturdy and that all its surfaces are smooth. Anchor it well over a shock-absorbing surface and away from fences or pavement. Keep in mind that wood can splinter and should be checked periodically.
- If you ride your bike with your child on the back, she needs a well-fitting bicycle helmet and a snug, approved seat. You can ask your local bike shop for advice.
- Learning to cross the street is very important for a young child, and your 3-year-old is ready to start. Show her how to watch the lights and look both ways, but don't count on her to remember every time. Be sure she always stops at the curb and waits for help. She will not be reliable at this age, so she needs the supervision.
- Don't let your child ride her tricycle or Big Wheel in the street. Supervise her even if she's in the driveway or front yard.
- Stay with your child in public rest rooms, even if you have to take your son into the women's room or your daughter into the men's room.
- Teach your child not to talk to strangers. Three-year-olds can strike up a conversation with anyone. Teach them early to be "introduced by your family" before talking to anyone.
- Be sure your child's potty chair doesn't rub or scrape her. Nothing discourages toilet training more!
- Teach her the concept of her own "private parts." She'll be curious, so you'll have lots of opportunities. Teach her that no one except herself, members of her family, or a nurse or doctor should touch certain areas of her body. Teach her the proper names for genitals and answer her questions about sexual matters honestly.
- Appliances, gadgets, switches, and plugs should all be out of your child's reach. Remember, children this age are clever climbers!
- Consider blocking out TV channels that broadcast material you don't want your 3-year-old to see. Limit TV viewing to one hour each day and watch with your child. Remember that a television is a very bad babysitter. If you go to movies or watch DVDs with your child, stick to those rated G, or selected PG films. Even some of these may scare or overwhelm sensitive children. Be advised that cartoons are some of the most violent programs on TV.
- Practice gun safety: Use locks and safes, and keep guns and ammunition separate.