Your first job as a parent is keeping your baby alive. Which means 1. feeding, and 2. turning your home into an impenetrable babyproofed fortress!
Babies are small, defenceless and – let’s be frank – pretty stupid when it comes to safety.
Every year tens of thousands of them are injured or worse when they crawl where they shouldn’t crawl, climb where they shouldn’t climb, or stuff things in their mouths that are not boobs or mushy potatoes.
In my mind, it pays to think of babies like they’re tiny, grumpy old folks who are too drunk to walk and who have forgotten the basic rules of society.
The good news is that most serious baby and toddler injuries happen in your home or backyard – which is an environment you can largely control, if you’re willing to put some time, effort and money into babyproofing.
And you absolutely should. Because here’s why:
According to Kidsafe WA, more kids die of PREVENTABLE injuries and accidents than of cancer, asthma, and all other infectious diseases combined.
Losing a child is the most horrendous experience imaginable, but living with the knowledge that you could have done something to prevent it… it’s unfathomable.
That’s not to say that you’ll need to encase the entire house in bubble-wrap and hover over the baby 24 hours a day. Nor should you be tempted to take the cheaper option, which is just to bubble-wrap the baby.
It is to say that you should use the below list as a starting point to reduce the risk in 7 of your home’s most common danger zones.
It covers babies who are moderately mobile (once they learn to grub around the house on their bellies) through to the ‘cruising’ (walking by holding onto stuff around them) and eventually walking.
As you read through it, keep the following insights from Kidsafe SA in mind.
The main causes of unintentional injury causing death (in and around the home):
- Driveway runvovers
- Drowning (particularly in swimming pools)
- Unsafe sleeping environments
- Strangulation/suffocation (entrapment in a cabinet, strangulation by a window blind cord)
- Crush injuries (large objects falling onto child)
The main causes of unintentional injury causing hospitalisation (in and around the home):
- Falls (from nursery furniture, beds, chairs, backyard playground equipment)
- Burns and scalds (from hot drinks and food, liquids, hot objects)
- Poisonings (from medicines, household cleaners, alcohol)
- Near drowning (most commonly backyard swimming pools)
- Dog bites (most commonly dogs known to the child in the home)
- Choking (food or small objects)
Lastly, don’t bookmark this for later. Do it now. Even if your bub is barely moving. It’s important to babyproof before it’s required – just in case junior decides to develop motor skills early and something goes badly wrong.
1. Stairs, windows, balconies and verandahs
Things can go very wrong, very fast in these locations. With increasing numbers of young families squeezing into high-rise apartments, the consequences of an accident once you’re living anywhere other than the ground floor can be much worse than a broken arm.
Keep the entrances to balconies and verandahs blocked off, using locks or latches, at all times. Remove anything, such as chairs, tables and pot plants, that children can climb on to reach the rail of a balcony or verandah. Likewise, install latches on any windows your child may conceivably be able to climb out of.
Plus, invest in a set of baby gates at both the top and bottom of stairs, where practical. You will, within a few short weeks, get used to them being there and you’ll stop swearing every time they get in the way.
2. The living room
Pride of place in most Aussie living rooms are our glorious widescreen TVs. They’re great for watching the footy, and falling on kids if they’re not mounted properly.
While the TVs we have these days might seem lighter than the hernia-inducing boxes you grew up with, they will do serious damage if they topple over on someone tiny (or even not so tiny).
Make sure you’ve secured that 70-inch Sony before your bundle of joy gets back from the hospital. (If you can’t find the straps, you can buy them at hardware stores.) If you’ve got the funds, the safer option is a wall bracket.
While we’re on electrical devices, you should make sure to put plastic dummy plugs in all of the vacant electrical sockets around your home to prevent accidental shock. In the same vein, you should arrange all the power cords so they can’t be pulled on (bringing the TV down on an unsuspecting young noggin) or chewed on by a curious baby.
If you’ve got curtain or blind cords, install hooks (if they aren’t there already) so they can be kept away from the hands and necks of little ones.
3. The kitchen
Contrary to all of the blubbering and crying we see on TV cooking shows, kitchens are not good places for babies. So, if it’s feasible, erect a baby gate or other barrier to prevent your child wandering in.
If you’re going to keep dishwashing capsules and cleaning products in the cupboard under the kitchen sink – and you probably are – make sure it has a childproof latch on it. Also, get out of the habit of storing poisonous substances (i.e. pesticides) near food or in something that can be mistaken for a food container.
Put childproof locks on drawers, particularly the ones containing items such as knives, cling wrap and plastic bags.
Either pack away (in secured drawers or cupboards) things such as kettles, blenders and pots when they are not being used, or put them in an unreachable location.
Make sure you’ve invested in a stove and hot plate guard by the time your child starts walking. If you can, store glassware up high rather than in ground-level cupboards.
Don’t leave coins, bottle tops, batteries or pen lids lying around on the kitchen bench. Keep the dishwasher closed when it’s not in use and make sure your child can’t get into the garbage bin.
4. The bathroom
Bathrooms are, by necessity, quite utilitarian spaces. Which means a combination of slippery floors and hard surfaces, alongside furnishings specifically designed to fill with water. None of these mix well with babies. So – keeping the door closed and, ideally, latched shut is a good start.
Make sure toiletries, razors and medicines are in a child-proof cupboard, ideally one above rather than below the bathroom sink. If below the sink is the only option, child-proof latches are a very wise investment.
Remove any electrical appliances, such as hair dryers or radios, that could fall into the bath.
Keep the toilet lid down and consider putting a toilet lock on it – it’s not only good practice in term of hygiene, but it could also stop a potentially very unpleasant drowning.
Lastly, If you can, adjust the settings on your hot water system so it won’t produce water any hotter than 49 degrees Celsius. If you can’t adjust the temperature at the hot water heater, you could invest in some anti-scald tapware. Talk to a plumber – they’ll know what to suggest.
5. The laundry
If you are going the old-school way and using cloth nappies, make sure that nappy bucket is shut tightly, and put it somewhere it’s not easily reached by curious hands.
Once again, make sure poisons, such as laundry detergents and fabric softeners, are stored in a latched cupboard. Don’t leave ironing boards – and even more importantly, the irons themselves – in places where they can fall. Also, don’t leave washing-powder scoops around where they can be grabbed and licked.
6. The nursery
Make sure you’ve got a cot that complies with the latest safety standards. There’s almost an entire article that could be written about the do’s and dont’s of cot safety – but the ‘Big Four’ run down is this:
- Not too much stuff in with the baby – they can, and will, make a mountain out of it and use to climb out of the cot.
- No pillows – babies don’t need them, and they’re a hazard.
- Make sure the mattress is the right size, and has been installed properly.
- Position the cot so it is well away from any cords attached to baby monitors, and especially curtains.
Also, no matter how stable they might seem, you should always secure dressers to the wall with an angle bracket or straps. With drawers that pull out to make a very convenient set of makeshift stairs, toppling dressers are an all-too-common occurrence that can be easily avoided.
7. The backyard
No doubt many of your happiest childhood memories involve your backyard. What you might have forgotten – or blocked out – is that yards are a veritable Bermuda Triangle for kids.
You should assume they will get into and eat anything that’s there. So, uproot anything prickly or poisonous (think rose bushes, cacti, toadstools and berries).
If you’ve got cats or dogs, make sure to clean up after them if you want to avoid a stomach-churning scenario and embarrassing visit to the doctor.
Sadly, given its potential as choking hazard, that Zen rock garden will probably have to go – and if you’ve got garden furniture or playground equipment, make sure it’s the smooth-edged, non-rusty, kid-friendly gear or leave it out for council clean-up.
Last, but not least, keep that shed filled with lawn products and dangerous power tools padlocked…
One last thing…
If you’re living in an older property you may need to put in extra effort and do things such as install smoke alarms or remove lead paint that’s flaking.
Despite parents becoming far more safety conscious in recent decades, children continue to discover new and ingenious ways to do themselves damage. Happily, as long as you take some basic precautions, your offspring should reach adulthood relatively unscathed, just like you did.