Before her son, Nolan, made his grand appearance into the world, Kate installed baby gates. She wanted her two dogs to get used to them.
Now that Nolan is six weeks old, she has added outlet covers, “despite it not being necessary quite yet.” And she’s planning to do the infamous baby crawl, seeing the world through a crawler’s eyes and uncovering hidden hazards.
Like a lot of moms, Kate sees baby-proofing as an ongoing process, one that would be overwhelming if left undone until Nolan starts crawling, but also a task that is never really finished. As kids get older and more curious, they find more ways to get into trouble. And moms never run out of things to worry about. (Oh my gosh, the TV could topple down on top of him and KILL him!)
Every year, 4.5 million kiddos are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained at home, according to Carolina Baby Safe, a company that helps families child-proof their home. The best time to start child-proofing is before your baby crawls. Because those first couple of months can be so exhausting, there’s a good argument to be made for getting started before the baby arrives.
Many online resources will help: I like the Mayo Clinic for being thorough without making me feel like I need to tear my house down and start over. I also found some helpful tips, such as adjusting the temperature on the water heater to 120° F.
Baby stores are anxious to sell you all sorts of gadgets to help you make your home safe for baby. Professionals market themselves as expert baby-proofers. But ultimately baby-proofing isn’t about the stuff you buy or the people you hire. It’s about knowing your child’s habits and predicting where those habits could lead her. It’s about supervising your child even in rooms you think are safe. And it’s about having a good vacuum cleaner and using it often, even though your baby might hate it. (Mine does!)
With my daughter, Celia, we started out by buying a bunch of stuff, such as outlet covers and latches for kitchen cabinets. My husband installed those in short order, but other items proved fiddly. A clamp to hold down the toilet cover was so effective, I couldn’t lift the lid. So that went bye-bye, as did some flimsy foam to attach to the coffee table. Celia pulled it down as fast as her dad attached it.
We ended up with a bag of useless baby-proofing items and the feeling that keeping our child safe at home was going to be harder than we thought. We did have some success. Jason safely affixed Celia’s bookcase to the wall, using eye-hooks and cord. Now I can send her to get some books without fear of life-threatening injury. There are also good furniture and TV straps that can be bought at hardware stores that even the profoundly unhandy-around-the-house moms like me can do. One is the TV quake strap. Here’s a good list of furniture wall straps to secure book shelves, dressers, and entertainment centers. A good friend of Parenting editor, Laura Roe Stevens, rushed to the hospital this year when her five-year-old daughter pulled out all the drawers of her mom’s dresser and the heavy antique toppled over her, trapping her underneath.
Luckily, this sort of thing hasn’t happened to me … yet. Some potential problem spots have yet to interest Celia. We’re flummoxed on how to block off the fireplace, but at ten months, she hasn’t gone near it.
My friend Amanda used a little creativity to address some problem areas, including the fireplace, which caught the attention of her nine-month-old daughter, Clara, as a fun play spot. “We found a tension mounted baby gate that we were able to install just inside the fire box,” Amanda says.
She also found air vents on the floor a tricky thing to make safe for Clara. “They can easily be lifted up out of the floor,” she says. “Some of them are big enough that she could slide right into the duct!”
Her husband used Velcro to secure them. “So far so good,” Amanda says. “She still crawls over to play with them, but can’t lift them out.”
Some moms take a less drastic approach to baby-proofing, moving obvious hazards like bleach to unreachable locations, but otherwise teaching their children to safely navigate the home.
Aspen held off on getting baby gates, thinking she might be able to teach her son, Thornton, now one, to safely go up and down the stairs. But when he got overconfident and took a tumble, she put up gates. “I’d recommend investing in gates that can be open and closed easily,” she says, “especially in high-traffic areas like the stairs.”
Aspen moved breakable and dangerous objects up high and filled bottom drawers with things that can be safely explored like dishcloths and Tupperware.
Address the Crucial Areas.
For your sanity’s sake, it’s good to take a relaxed approach. But to make life easier, there are important child-proofing areas that veteran moms warn you shouldn’t over-look:
1. Window bars or locks. If you have an upstairs or live in a high rise building, these are essential. Recently, a two-year-old fell from a five-story window in London, and miraculously survived. Since some window bars have to be custom-fit, here’s a Web site that explains more.
2. Blind pull retractors. The baby of a friend of Laura’s sadly almost strangled on the cord to a window shade two years ago, after she learned to climb out of her crib, stand on her rocking horse and climb up onto her shades via the cord. Any home improvement store will have blind cord retractors.
3. Oven. Check out your oven. If it goes all the way to the floor, does it have a low broiling door that flies open? Is it a double oven with a handle that can be easily pulled down by a curious one-year-old who pulls on things to stand? Because even though you’re in the kitchen with your child, it can happen in the blink of an eye. The best friend of Laura’s son severely burned his arm at eleven months when kicking the broiling door of an oven open and then leaning on it to try to stand. The boy wore a cast until he was thirteen months and was in excruciating pain.
4. Baby gates for stairs and pets.
5. Pet doors. When babysitter arrives, secure them closed as baby could crawl out or get head stuck in them.
6. Locks for all door knobs as one-year-olds quickly learn how to turn handles and get into bathrooms or work shops or cleaning closets. Plastic door knob covers work wonders!
While this list may seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you have a newborn or a child who is barely crawling, it will be helpful to have these items addressed before the toddler phase—so you can relax as your little cherub explores freely!