Safe and sound for baby: a guide to infant safety

There is nothing quite like the excitement of a new baby in the family, and nothing that changes your life more dramatically.

HealthGate and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association are pleased to provide you with infant safety recommendations designed to keep your baby safe and secure. But please remember that even the most stringent recommendations cannot protect your baby without careful supervision and awareness on your part.

First things first: child car seats

Your first responsibility begins with selecting a child car seat and using it properly, and all 50 U.S. states have laws that require the use of a child care seat. Don't forget you will need one for baby's first ride home from the hospital.

All child care seats manufactured today must be designed to meet the safety standard set by the federal government in 1981. Don't use a child care seat manufactured before that time, or one that has been involved in an accident. Do not use an infant carrier as a child car seat. All child car seats aren't the same, so be careful to select one that is appropriate for your child's height and weight and fits correctly in the vehicle.

According to the federal government the safest place in the vehicle for your baby is in the back seat. Until your baby weighs 20 lbs. the car seat should be placed rear- facing. Remember to always anchor it to your vehicle's seat with the vehicle lap or lap/shoulder belt exactly as directed by the car seat manufacturer. Never use a rear-facing car seat in a seating location with an airbag. Be sure to check the car seat instructions for information on the use of the locking clip. And remember to set a good example for your whole family by buckling yourself up, too.

(*Please check out our link to the AAP Seatbelt Recommendation site on our Well Child Page for more information.)

Cribs

Because your baby will spend much of her time in a crib, this first "home" should be a cheerful and secure environment. Even if you are on a tight budget, don't buy an old crib or accept a hand-me-down manufactured before 1988. Most older cribs do not meet all current safety standards (typically the slat spacing is too wide, or it may have corner post extensions).

Never use a crib with corner posts that are higher than 1/16 inches above the end panel. Babies can strangle if their clothes become caught on the corner posts. Crib slats or spindles should be spaced no more than 2 3/8 inches apart, and none should be loose or missing. The crib mattress should fit snugly with no more than two fingers width between the mattress and the crib side. Always keep the drop side up when baby is in the crib. Never place your crib near draperies, blinds, or wall-mounted decorative accessories with long cords, because a baby could become entangled in the cords. A baby is ready for a move into a toddler or regular bed when she reaches a height of 35 inches or two years of age, whichever comes first.

Crib bedding should always be used as directed by the manufacturer. Select bumper pads that fit around the entire crib and tie or snap securely in place. To prevent baby from chewing on the bumper straps, ties, or ribbons and to keep him from becoming entangled, trim off any excess length after the strap is tied. Use bumper pads only until he can stand up to a standing position. Then remove them so that your baby cannot use the pads to climb out of the crib. Mobiles should also be removed when the baby can pull himself up. A pillow should be used only for decoration.  Be sure to remove it when baby is sleeping or unattended as it may cause suffocation.

When purchasing crib toys, select sturdy items that are age appropriate. Be sure to check for small ends that could break, or "eyes" that could be pulled out. Take rattles, squeeze toys, teethers, plush toys, and other small items out of your baby's crib while unattended. Always supervise the use of crib toys and discontinue use of crib toys that are suspended across the crib when your baby is five months old or can push himself up on his arms and legs.

Changing tables

You can choose many different types of changing tables, but make sure you buy one that has straps that will prevent baby from falling or rolling. Always use the straps to restrain baby when the changing table is in use. Be sure that any baby products you routinely use, such as powder and wipes, are easily accessible, and never turn your back on the baby when reaching for them. Most important, never leave your baby unattended even for the shortest moment.

Carriages, strollers, and high chairs

Choose a stroller or carriage that has a base wide enough to prevent tipping, even when your baby leans over the side. If the seat adjusts to a reclining position, make sure that the stroller doesn't tip backward when he lies down. Always use the seat belt when placing baby in the stroller, and never leave him unattended. When the stroller is stationary, be sure to lock the wheels. If your stroller has a shopping basket for holding packages, it should be low on the back of the stroller front or directly over the back wheels. When you fold or unfold the stroller, keep your baby's hands away from areas that could pinch tiny fingers. Restraint straps should always be used when a stroller is either in the upright or the carriage position.

High chairs should have both a waist and a crotch strap. Never depend on the feeding tray to restrain or protect your baby. Instead, secure both the waist and the crotch straps. Keep the high chair far enough away from a table, counter, or wall so that baby can't push off from it. Never allow him to stand up in his high chair, because it could topple over.

Bathing and feeding

Before bathing your baby, collect all bath essentials so you won't have to turn your back on him. In addition, test the bath water temperature before immersing her. Use your wrist or elbow to test the water. Do not leave your baby unattended, even for a few seconds! Make sure that bath seats are placed in the tub securely; do not use on a nonskid bathtub surface.

When feeding baby, test all warmed foods for a comfortable eating temperature before serving. Heating baby food in a microwave is convenient and safe, but remember that the microwave can generate lots of steam. Be sure to release the steam before the food comes near your baby. Use microwave-safe dishes and stir foods from the center out to make sure that the temperature is even throughout. Your baby should always eat and drink in an upright position, and avoid propping baby's bottle to enable him to drink by himself.

Household dangers

Get down on your hands and knees and look around your home from your child's perspective. This will help you to spot potentially dangerous objects. For example, an ordinary house plant can be poisonous is your curious baby decides to taste a piece of it. Safety checking your home is also a time to be sure that baby does not have access to swimming pools, toilets, diapers pails, large cleaning buckets, showers, or hot tubs. Remember that it's possible for an infant to drown in as little as two inches of water.

Medicines, bleaches, oven and drain cleaners, paint solvents, polishes, waxes, matches, and cigarette lighters are also dangerous to an infant. These should always be kept out of sight and reach. Use childproof locks on all child-level cabinets. Use child-resistant packaging whenever possible. Keep the number of the poison center near the phone.

Electrical outlets, appliances, and cords can all be baby safety hazards. Cover unused electrical outlets with safety caps and replace broken or missing receptacle cover plates. Use or install a safety latch on your oven so that an inquisitive baby cannot open the oven door and burn himself.

Plastic wrap and plastic dry cleaning, shopping, and garbage bags should be kept away from your baby. Never use plastic shipping bags or other plastic film as mattress covers not sold and intended for that purpose; they can cling to his face and cause suffocation.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) has developed a certification program for high chairs, play yards, walkers, carriages and strollers, gates and enclosures, and full-size cribs. If products are judged to meet the standards that have been established by the American Society for Testing and Materials, they can be labeled with the JPMA Certified mark. If you are interested in a product, but are unsure if it has been JPMA certified, ask your retailer for information or call the manufacturer.

Resources

To learn more about juvenile product safety, see:
Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
http://www.jpma.org/