From the moment you learn you're pregnant,
keeping your baby safe is your number one concern. Babies and small
children depend on their parents to keep them safe, and, at the same
time, to allow them to explore their world and make new discoveries
every day. Safety means looking at the environment and matching it up
to your own baby's abilities at that time. It means making changes in
the environment as your baby moves through each development stage.
Anticipating what you'll need to do to keep
danger out of your baby's reach is the key part of the safety game.
Setting up safe ways and places for your baby to explore works better
than planning to watch your baby every second —an impossible task.
The safety rules change with your baby's age, but some general
principles of safety apply to every child. Read the following
checklist for the best safety rules of thumb. For more age-specific
safety information, see our safety-by-age
Never shake a baby
Shaking a baby, even playfully, can cause
bleeding in her brain and rip nerves and muscles. Shaken Baby
Syndrome can result in blindness, brain damage, or death. Taking care
of a baby is a tough job, and in the early days it's often difficult
to fathom why your baby is crying. Feeling angry and frustrated
sometimes is normal. But no matter how frustrated you get, NEVER
shake or jiggle your baby violently. If you feel yourself losing
control, seek help from your mate, a friend or relative, or a
professional. Never shake a baby as part of a game, either. It's just
Never leave your baby alone
Even newborns can occasionally turn over or
flip around, so never leave your baby alone in the tub, on a raised
surface like a changing table, or on an adult bed. If the phone
rings, take the baby with you (or let the answering machine pick up
the call). And never leave a baby in a car by herself, even for a
minute. Emergencies can happen in an instant, and your child needs an
adult with her at all times.
Prevent burns and promote fire safety
- Install smoke alarms, especially where your
baby sleeps, and check their batteries when you reset your clocks in
the spring and the fall. And put fire extinguishers on every floor
of your house. Be sure the fire department has directions to your
house if you live outside of town.
- Use fire-resistant or flame-retardant
clothing, bedding, and toys for your child. Check the labels to make
- Turn down your hot water heater—120 degrees F
is a good setting for households with small children. You can
prevent accidental burns and still get the dishes and the clothes
- Replace floor furnaces with another type of
heating system, and block radiators.
- Move all appliances with cords so that your
child can't reach the cords.
- Cover all electrical outlets with plugs.
- Keep your baby out of direct sunlight and use
sunscreen, as the sun can hurt a baby's sensitive skin. It's safe to
use small amounts of sunscreen on babies under 6 months of age —
apply it for every outing. Use protective clothing (including hats)
and eyewear, even for the youngest child, even in winter, and even
on cloudy days.
Lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS), or crib death
- Put your baby "Back to Sleep." Research has
shown that putting babies to sleep on their back lowers their risk
of SIDS by as much as 70 percent. But be sure your baby spends awake
time on her tummy to discover, explore, and strengthen her
- Keep your baby's room warm, but not too warm.
Maintain an air temperature that is comfortable for you. A young
infant has less capability to adjust her temperature than an adult,
as she can only sweat around her head. Keep her head uncovered and
remove a layer of clothing if her head is damp with sweat. If she's
overheated by too many blankets or clothes, she is at greater risk
- Keep your baby's head uncovered as she sleeps.
Use a sleeper or tuck her in below her neck with a blanket.
- Be sure your baby sleeps on a firm mattress.
Fluffy, soft surfaces can obstruct her breathing. Do not use thick
quilts, comforters, pillows, or sheepskin under or over the baby.
Avoid waterbeds. Toys and pillows shouldn't be too big or too plush;
infants should not have pillows or large stuffed toys in their cribs
at all. Do not use bumper pads in a crib.
- No smoking around your baby. Babies exposed to
secondhand smoke are at least twice as likely to die of SIDS.
- Breastfeed. Breastfed babies have a lower risk
You and your baby spend a lot of time in the
car, so it's important to take the time to make sure the car is safe.
Car accidents are THE leading cause of death and injury in children
after the first month of life.
- Always use a car seat that's appropriate for
the age and size of your child. Almost all children badly injured or
killed in car accidents were not properly restrained in car seats,
or were sitting in car seats that were not properly installed.
Install the seat according to the manufacturers' instructions, or
ask the police department or the car dealer to install it for you.
Don't ever give in to a child's desire to ride anywhere but in the
- Always drive with children in the back seat,
especially if you have air bags.
- Never leave your child alone in the car,— not
even for a minute! When you're on the road, make sure your child
isn't getting too much sun through the car window.
- Don't smoke in the car.
- Use automatic door and window locks, and keep
them set for each ride.
- Be a good role model: Buckle up every time
you're in the car, and drive safely.
Make sure your baby's gear is safe
There are lots of new safety standards for
baby and child equipment. Before you purchase anything or take on
used baby gear, check to be sure everything meets standards and
hasn't been recalled.
- Before you buy any baby gear, check for safety
information. Everything you buy should pass Consumer Product Safety
Commission (CPSC) standards. Call them at 1-800-638-2772 or check
their Web site to be sure.
- See if your products have the yellow and black
certification seal of the Juvenile Product Manufacturers
here for an updated list of product recalls.
- Items manufactured before 1974 may have lead
paint or may have design flaws that make them a safety risk, and
they won't appear on recall lists.
- Check all of your baby's equipment regularly
for loose parts, sharp or rough edges, and peeling paint.
Baby-proof your home
Now, on to baby proofing. First of all, the
term "baby proofing" is something of a misnomer, since there is no
such thing as a completely baby-proofed house. You will always have
to keep a close eye on your baby, and an especially close eye when
you're somewhere other than your own home. However, there are some
basic steps to make your home as safe as possible:
- Take a spin through the house on your hands
and knees, looking at it from your baby's perspective. You will
quickly notice many looming dangers. Make a list of what you find
and take steps to make them safe.
- Get as many electrical cords and appliances
out of the way as possible. Before you run any appliance, make sure
you can see the baby, and that he's far from the action. Make it a
- Put locks on all windows so they can be opened
no more than six inches. This is particularly important for windows
on the second story and above.
- Plug up all electrical outlets and put cords
out of reach (this is so important it's worth repeating).
- Put all cleaning supplies, medicines
(prescription and over-the-counter), alcohol, vitamins, and anything
else that would harm your baby if ingested up high where he can't
reach it. Lock those cupboards.
- Be sure all medicines, including visitors',
are in safety-capped bottles.
- Use cupboard safety latches, even for those
containing safe objects.
- Block stairs with secure gates, and secure
doors and windows with high latches and locks.
- Put shade and curtain cords out of reach.
- Secure bookshelves and high furniture that
could be pulled over. This may mean using wall bolts.
- Avoid using tablecloths, scarves, and doilies
that your baby can use to pull objects off a table.
- Make sure grandparents and care providers
adequately baby-proof their homes as well.
Check for gas
- Radon, a naturally emitted radioactive gas, is
a cancer-causing health hazard that can collect in tightly closed
houses, such as those in cold climates. It tends to collect in the
lower levels of houses. Babies and toddlers are especially at risk
because the gas collects close to the floor. State, county, and city
health departments will come out to check your home and show you
ways to vent the gas, if necessary.
- Carbon monoxide detectors are important if you
heat with propane or wood. Keep the batteries current.
In the United States, choking is the fourth
leading cause of accidental death among children under 5.
Fortunately, choking can be prevented. Follow these guidelines:
- Avoid foods that pose the greatest choking
hazard. This includes hot dogs, whole grapes, peanuts, hard candy,
and raw carrots.
- Always feed your baby sitting up, in your lap,
or in an infant chair. Make sure your toddler sits at the table and
doesn't walk or run with food in his mouth.
- Make sure your child's toys are safe. Soft
toys should be washable, stuffed with fire-safe material, and have
no loose pieces such as eyes, buttons, or latches. If toys break
down into pieces, no piece should be smaller than 1.75 inches. (They
should be too big to fit through a paper towel tube.) Pieces smaller
than that pose a choking hazard. Don't use any toys that have
strings, fasteners, buttons, or chipping paint. Avoid latex balloons
and small balls, and check all of your baby's toys regularly for
rough edges, loose parts, or peeling paint.
- Only dress your baby in safe clothing. Check
clothes inside and out for loose strings or ribbons or anything that
could wrap around your baby's neck, small fingers, or toes. Avoid
drawstrings on clothes that can get caught in doors, cribs, or toy
equipment such as bicycle wheels. Remember, children can always pull
off buttons that you think are securely attached.
A smoke-free house is healthy for everyone
who lives there, especially your baby. No one should smoke around a
baby, including baby sitters or relatives. People unwilling to quit
smoking should abstain from smoking in a baby's house. If you or
someone in your house smokes, you have many reasons to quit — if not
for your sake, then for your baby's.
- Babies in smoking households are at least
twice as likely to die from SIDS.
- Children in smoking households get more chest
colds, ear infections, sore throats, asthma, pneumonia, burns, and
other health problems compared with children in non-smoking
- Smokers' houses are at greater risk for fire
and fire-related injuries.
Prevent firearm injury and death
Today and every day, 10 children in the
United States will die from handgun accidents, murder, and suicide.
Even more are wounded. In gun-owning households, the natural
curiosity and playfulness of children can quickly turn deadly.
The best way to keep your baby safe is:
- Remove all guns from your home, period.
If you do have guns:
- Lock them up. Make sure your guns are locked
away, with all ammunition locked up separately. Make sure only
adults know where the guns and ammunition are kept and that the key
stays with an adult.
- When a gun isn't locked up, never leave it
unattended. Whenever you handle your gun, including when you clean
it, don't let it out of your sight, even for an instant. Most
firearm accidents involving children happen because the children
- Use trigger locks and other safety devices.
- Never refer to a gun as a toy.
- No child under 8 can be relied upon to
remember rules for handling a gun, no matter how well they are
Prevent drowning/promote water safety
Drowning is the second most deadly type of
accident for children in the United States. Young children are
especially at risk, not only because they don't know how to swim, but
also because they can drown in a very small amount of water.
- Never let your child out of your sight near
any pool of water, including toilets, scrub buckets, fountains,
swimming pools, wading pools, lakes, ponds, or the ocean.
- Children of any age need to be directly
supervised around any swimming pool or body of water. All monitors
should have no other tasks than to watch children when they're
- Keep the bathroom off-limits for infants and
toddlers, except for when they are directly supervised.
- If you have a pool, enclose it with a fence
taller than 4 feet that has a locked gate. If you live near a
community pool, get it up to these standards.
- Bathtub rings do not protect a child. If you
use one, you must still supervise your child constantly.
- Swimming lessons aren't recommended for
children until after their fourth birthday. They give parents a
false sense of security. You must always supervise your children
when they're in the water, even if they've had swimming lessons.
Young children may swallow too much water while swimming, leading to
serious or even fatal salt imbalance.
- If you have a boat, make sure you follow all
U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations. Have a regulation life
preserver, sized appropriately, for each person on board, and teach
your older children safety rules and boat etiquette.
- Arm "wings," plastic rings, and other devices
do not ensure safety for young children in the water. Watch your
children directly at all times. If your child is under 2 years old,
you should be in the water with him at all times.
Other little safety tips
- Don't put pacifiers or necklaces around your
young infant's neck. A cord or necklace can too easily get caught
and strangle him.
- If you use a pacifier, be sure it's molded in
a single piece.
- Any space or opening bigger than 2 3/8 inches
wide can accommodate a baby's head at an angle, so keep an eye out
for potential traps.
- Never refer to medicine as candy.
- Put all visitors' handbags and luggage out of
your child's reach.
- Make sure carrying devices such as packs and
strollers fit your child's age and stage of development.