My eight-month-old boy just became mobile. As a man who stuck a finger in a power socket as a baby, I’m pretty sensitive to the dangers of curious little fingers, toes and tongues (the “taste everything” phase is now overlapping with the “roll to everything” phase). Of course, most parents are conscientious about safe cribs, toys and other items for the baby, but may overlook dangers outside the nursery and around the rest of the house. Here are 15 important baby safety items that are either in place around my house or will be there before my little man takes his first step.
1. Electric outlet covers: All open outlets should be plugged with childproof outlet covers. Ironically, these small outlet covers can become a choking hazard if you leave them lying around when you plug in an appliance. In my parents’ defense, they covered all their outlets, except the one I found hidden behind an armoire. In went my pinkie, requiring three surgeries and leaving lifelong scars. Never underestimate a baby’s curiosity.
2. Power strip covers and cord wrap: Along the same lines, cover the row of outlets in your power strips with a simple power strip cover. You can also help keep kids from unplugging cords or choking themselves by wrapping them up in a cord shortener.
3. Toilet seat safety lock: Even if you are toilet training children, keep them out of the toilet when they aren’t using it. They could contract e coli and other diseases if they touch the toilet. They could fall in and drown, or they could plug up your plumbing dropping their toys in the bowl. Mount a childproof safety lock to keep curious fingers from opening the lid.
4. Anti-scald devices and faucet covers: Also in the bathroom, prevent burns and injuries from hot water and faucets. Anti-scald devices can be added to faucets and showers to keep the bathroom water temperature low while keeping the water heater high enough to prevent bacteria and provide hot water in the kitchen. Also consider a soft, cute spout cover, such as the hippo- or elephant-shaped Tubbly Bubbly, to keep kids from touching hot faucets or bumping their heads on the sharp faucet.
5. Cabinet latches: If you keep cleaners, medications, scissors or other dangerous items in the bathroom cabinets, latch the cabinets to keep out little fingers. Also latch cabinets and drawers in the kitchen or other rooms.
6. Stove protectors: The stove is another potential source of burns. Install an oven lock and stove knob covers. Check the temperature of the oven exterior, too, and keep the child away from the stove if needed. Also use back burners whenever possible, and keep handles away from the edge of the stove, where baby could grab them.
7. Safety gates: Put safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs, and at the entrance to the kitchen, garage or other off-limits area. The safest gates are hardware-mounted plexiglass. Don’t put pressure-mounted gates at the top of the stairs, and be careful with old accordion-style gates. They pose a strangulation hazard. Diamond-style gates should also be avoided to keep kids from climbing them.
8. Door knob covers: The other way to keep kids out of rooms or closets is a door knob safety cover. Look for models that also have a lock-guard to keep infants from accidentally locking themselves in. Doors can also pinch fingers, so consider pinch guards, which are simply rubber clamps that keep a door from fully closing. Closets may also need bi-fold door locks.
9. Window Guards: Children can fall out a window that is only open four inches. I insist on fresh air (and it’s healthier for all of us), so I prefer mesh window guards over window locks. Whatever you use, make sure it is easy for adults or teens to open in an emergency if necessary.
10. Furniture padding: My baby’s not crawling yet, but he’s gone straight to holding himself up on my coffee table. That means it’s not long until he bonks his head on the table or other sharp furniture. Protect baby from furniture (and protect furniture from a teething baby) with padding. I prefer full-table bumpers to corner cushions, which simply attach with double-sided tape and barely pose a challenge for many babies. Also consider storing glass tables for a couple of years, along with coffee tables that might serve as diving boards for little climbers.
11. Safety straps: The little ones also might climb on bookcases, china cabinets and other large furniture. These large items should be secured to the studs with anti-tip straps. Similar straps also are available for televisions.
12. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors: Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are typically required by code, but often overlooked or neglected in the carefree pre-child days. Look for Underwriters Laboratories(UL)-approved carbon monoxide detectors, and install them in every sleeping room and at least 15 feet from any fuel-burning appliances (small releases of CO can set off the alarm). Consider a hard-wired smoke detector with battery backup, and test it monthly. Your local fire department will probably check the installation and placement of your smoke detectors for free.
13. Fire extinguishers and sprinklers: Parents might also want to take fire safety a step further than maintaining smoke alarms. Install multipurpose extinguishers in the kitchen and basement, and learn how to use them. Also consider retrofitting with a sprinkler system. Most important, have a family escape plan for fires.
14. Garage-door safety features: If you have an old garage-door opener, retrofit with automatic reverse and backup safety protection, such as an electric sensor that stops and reverses the door if it “sees” someone or something cross the door threshold. Also check your owners’ manual for instructions on testing and inspecting the garage door.
15. Family first aid kit: Keep a well-supplied first aid kit out of reach of children but easily accessible to adults. Stock it with a first-aid manual, bandages and gauze, cotton swabs, antiseptic wipes and cream, tweezers acetaminophen and Pedialyte or other electrolyte solution, which could help prevent dehydration.
From outlet covers to first air kits, parents have plenty of options for keeping babies safe. Still, you can take it too far. Baby superstores are full of bathtub thermometers and small item testers. I can gauge the temperature of the bath with my wrist, and can guess if something fits in baby’s mouth without an extra gadget.