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What You Need to Know About Infant Safety
By Charlotte Hendricks, H.S.D.

The first year of life is exciting for both baby and his parents. Mom and Dad are thrilled by each and every new development in baby’s life – first tooth, first words, and first steps. During the first year, babies see faces, people, and objects, and then they begin to reach for them. Next thing you know, babies are mobile and exploring the wonders of their environment! There are two key concepts in this statement – mobile and explore. It’s amazing how quickly an infant can reach for an object, and put that object into his mouth. These characteristics make safety a never-ending challenge. In this article, we list the most common infant safety hazards and describe how you can keep baby safe in your program and at home.

Floors
A baby’s line of vision begins at floor level and ends at about two feet. To really see potential hazards, you should get down on all fours and look around. You can expect to find choking hazards, such as paper clips, coins, a peanut, or a vitamin under a chair, hiding underneath a countertop, or nudged into a corner. From this perspective, you’ll also see dirt and debris tracked in from your shoes, including chemicals from a treated lawn. To ensure an infant’s safety, do a daily “floor check” to remove all choking hazards from under and behind furniture. If your infant room is carpeted, be sure that it is properly swept and professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Linoleum floors should be sanitized daily with a bleach and water solution.

Electrical Outlets
Most electrical outlets are directly at a baby’s eye level. You can be sure an infant will not only find the outlet, but explore it with his little fingers. To prevent injury, be sure alloutlets, even those out of baby’s reach, are securely covered. In addition, keep cords of all appliances short and away from baby. An infant pulling on a cord can easily cause heavy objects to crash to the floor or even worse on him.

Falls
One of baby’s first triumphs, at around the age of eight to 12 months, is the ability to climb up. Babies love to practice their new skills and will likely climb out of their cribs, up stairs, and onto chairs, which can then provide access to countertops and changing tables! While a fall from a chair or sofa is not likely to cause serious injury, a fall from a countertop can be deadly. Constant supervision is the key to preventing such falls. Also, try to avoid putting infants in walkers. Walkers give babies instant mobility, which can lead to a crash into a wall or a bumpy ride down a staircase. To eliminate climbing hazards, place sturdy safety gates at both the top and bottom of staircases, as well as at doorways to other rooms. The bottom of the gate should be less than three inches from the floor to prevent the child from crawling under it and becoming trapped. Be sure the gates are secure and cannot be pushed or pulled down. Never use accordion style gates. A gate of this type can strangle a child. In addition, always keep one hand on baby at all times when diapering. An infant can fall from a changing table in the few seconds you turn your back. High chairs should have sturdy wide bases and include all safety straps, including the strap that goes between the child’s legs.

Suffocation and Strangulation
To make naptime as safe as possible, place infants in cribs that have firm, close-fitting mattresses and sheets that stay securely on the mattress. Dress infants in warm pajamas to eliminate the need for blankets and never place pillows or stuffed toys in the crib. In addition, always put baby on his back to sleep, not his stomach. To ensure crib safety, there should be no more than 2 3/8 inches between crib slats and corner posts should not protrude more than 1/16 inch above the end panels. Eliminate entrapments hazards by selecting cribs that do not have cutout or carved areas on the headboard or footboard. Windows Keep all window drapery and blind cords away from baby’s reach. In addition, be sure that all cribs and highchairs are kept a safe distance away from windows to prevent access. Because babies are “top heavy” they can easily topple out of windows. A screen alone will not prevent baby’s fall from a window.

Safety devices
Remember that no room or area is ever completely “child proof.” Although latches and locks can be installed on cabinets, toilets, and refrigerators, these devices will only help in slowing down a child’s access. You’ll find that many children will quickly learn how to open the latches and locks. The same is true of child-resistant caps on medication bottles. These can delay, but not always prevent access. Again, your constant supervision and daily removal of potential hazards are the keys to keeping baby safe and sound.

Charlotte Hendricks, assistant editor of HealthyCHILDCare, specializes in the health and safety of young children and can be reached by email at chendricks@wwisp.com.

For more information about her health and safety resources, please visit www.childhealthonline.org.