When there’s a baby on the way, it’s important to make your home as safe as possible to protect your little one from preventable harm. Many parents begin to think about ways they can babyproof their home in the final few months of pregnancy during the nesting phase, but it’s important to view childproofing as an ongoing process which evolves to meet the changing needs of your child as they become ever more mobile and inquisitive.
You might feel anxious about the thought of your baby suffering an accident, and these fears are, sadly, not unfounded. In the UK, children aged between 0-4 are the age group most at risk of an accident. Injuries caused by household accidents are the most common cause of death in children aged over one. Every year, many children are left with life-changing or disfiguring injuries caused by accidents in the home; many of which could have been easily prevented.
However, although the odd knock and tumble is an inevitable part of childhood, especially when they are learning to walk, the good news is that the vast majority of childhood injuries can be avoided. Thinking about potential dangers and the steps needed to prevent them is the best way of making your home safe. This article will explore the main everyday risks your baby will face and the steps you can take to effectively protect your child.
These are some of the commonest injuries babies suffer in the home – they are far more likely to become injured at home as it is the place where young babies and children are most likely to spend the majority of their time:
Falling, Tumbling and Tripping
Climbing out of cots, falling from a high chair, falling off a bed or a changing table, falling down stairs or bumping into furniture as they try and cruise, any parent of an infant knows that falling and tripping is a very common occurrence!
As young babies learn to sit up unaided, to crawl and then to walk, falling and tripping is part and parcel of everyday life. Fortunately, the vast majority of falls and tumbles cause no serious damage and babies are more resilient than they look.
However, the best way of mitigating falls and tumbles is to keep a close eye on your baby or toddler. Never leave them unattended in a high chair and use stair gates.
Falls are the 12th leading cause of deaths among 5-9 year olds.
Burns and Scalding
Each year, hundreds of children aged under 5 are admitted to hospital as a result of burns with many requiring further treatment. Recovery can be long, painful and even result in permanent scarring. A child’s skin is much more sensitive to heat than an adult’s and it is vital to be aware of the dangers posed by hot water.
Bathwater which is too hot is the commonest reason for scalded skin in children under 5 with spilt drinks coming a close second.
Did you know that a hot drink such as tea or coffee can still scald a child’s skin 15 minutes after it was made?
Children also regularly suffer from contact with other hot surfaces, such as oven tops, hair straighteners, cigarette lighters and many other everyday household items. Children are also very vulnerable to sunburn.
You can reduce the chances of your child suffering from burning or scalding by:
- Testing the temperature of the water first. If you have a young baby, dip your elbow into the water first to check that it is not too hot. Fill the bathwater with cold water first and then add the hot.
- Bottles of formula heated in the microwave can be scaldingly hot in places so always leave them to cool, shake well, and test on your arm before giving to your baby.
- Never leave hot drinks unattended or within reach of a young child. Never let anyone hold a hot drink and your child at the same time – you may need to be strict with well-meaning relatives over this last!
- Place boiling saucepans on the rear hob rings with the handles facing inwards so that they cannot be grabbed by a curious toddler.
- Kitchens are full of hazards, so keep your child out of the kitchen as much as possible, ideally with a stair gate.
- Set the hot water system so the temperature cannot exceed 46 degrees.
Hot bath water is the most common cause of burns and scolds in children under the age of 5.
The accidental ingestion of toxic substances is the cause of over 28,000 UK children receiving hospital treatment each year.
If you suspect your child may have been poisoned, seek immediate medical assistance.
- Keep chemicals, medicines and household cleaning treatments in locked cupboards out of the reach of children
- Never leave an open bottle of bleach or laundry detergent unattended
- Always store household chemicals in their original container
Broken glass is a common hazard, whether it’s caused by broken tumblers or bottles or injuries resulting from shattered architectural glass.
- Opt for safety glass that complies with Standard BS 206 or apply shatter resistant film to its surface
- Small children should be closely supervised when drinking from a glass container
- If you have a greenhouse, safeguard it with fencing or invest in additional protective features
- Always sweep up and safely dispose of any broken glass immediately
Shatterproof glass film is affordable, available from well known online retailers and easy to apply.
Babies and children can drown in less than 3 cm of water. Never leave them in or near water unattended. Paddling pools should be emptied when not in use. Garden ponds should have a safety cover or be securely fenced off.
Although less common than in the past, many children die in household fires each year.
Make sure you have a smoke alarm fitted which complies with BS EN 14604 2005 and test it regularly. Keep matches and lighters out of reach and out of sight of children. Even better – try and give up smoking altogether.
Passive smoke inhalation is very bad for children’s health and is linked to asthma and other lung-related conditions.
If you have an open fire or a woodburning stove, always use a fireguard.
In the UK 90% of households have a working smoke alarm.
This leaves around 2.5 million homes without such an alarm.
Choking is a major hazard for children under 5. A baby’s instinct to explore unfamiliar objects by putting them in his mouth combined with the fact that their windpipe is tiny combines to make a recipe for disaster.
Crawling babies are especially at risk. In the US, one child dies every five days from choking.
- Keep floor surfaces as clear and free of tiny small objects as possible – a hoover will become your best friend during these early years!
- Always feed your child sitting upright in a high chair or similar.
- Cut items such as grapes in half before giving to your child. Never leave a child unattended during mealtimes.
Choking is the fourth leading cause of intentional injury death in the US.
Despite much publicity over the years, a few children are still tragically strangled by loose blind cords each year. A blind in a child’s bedroom should be of the kind that does not have a cord. All blind cords should be well out of a child’s reach.
Do not hang toys or other objects from looped cords.
Ensure that your child’s bed is well away from a window.
Since 2004 there have been over 30 child deaths caused by looped blind cords.
Heavy Pieces of Furniture
Large pieces of furniture such as a bookcase, a TV or a cabinet may look safe to adult eyes. However, consider the impact if a toddler were to attempt to climb it and pull it down on themselves. The resulting injuries could easily be fatal.
If you have a mobile, cruising baby attempting to move around by clinging on to large pieces of furniture, make sure that they are all properly secured to the wall.
Did you know that a child is taken to hospital every 24 minutes as a result of falling TV sets?
Experts believe that a large TV falling onto a toddler’s head could have the same impact as falling 10 storeys from a building. Terrifying.
Furniture safety straps are available from many online retailers.
Warning: Some Viewers May Find This Video Distressing
This video highlights the importance of furniture straps:
Sleeping with adults is not recommended for babies and infants because of the risks of suffocation. An adult in a deep sleep could easily roll on to a defenceless baby and inadvertently smother them.
Tragically, some babies do die in their sleep and the cause often remains unknown. However, some factors are thought to be linked to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS; the NHS has the following tips to reduce the risk of SIDS, formerly known as cot death:
- Place your baby to sleep on its back with its feet at the end of the bed Your baby’s head should be uncovered
- Don’t let your baby get too hot or too cold
- Don’t smoke or let others smoke around your baby
- Don’t sleep with your baby, even falling asleep in an armchair or sofa whilst holding your baby. You should never do this if you drink alcohol or take drugs.
85% of deaths from suffocation and strangulation in bed occur in the first 6 months of life.
Many cautious parents and early years settings diligently cover all electrical sockets at child level with plastic socket covers in the belief that this will make them safer for crawling babies and toddlers. However, many experts believe that these inexpensive covers could actually pose more of a risk than leaving the covers bare. In 2011, the ‘Fatally Flawed’ campaign aimed to prevent the sale of these covers and raise awareness of the issue.
Modern power sockets have their own internal safety measures in the form of protective shutters, which prevent a child’s exploratory finger from coming into contact with the live current. Unless the socket is faulty – and there should be clear indications that it is so, such as scorch marks or signs of melting – there is no need for a plastic cover. They are dangerous because they are often ill-fitting and can be easily worked loose. A plastic cover that is half in and half out, for example, could leave a child’s finger exposed to the live current resulting in electrocution.
So what should you do to reduce the risk of electrocution?
The Child Accident Prevention Trust has the following advice:
- Watch out for scorch marks or frayed wires
- Safety check all your electrical appliances
- Don’t overload your plug sockets
- Keep electrical appliances, such as phone chargers, out of reach
- Don’t leave things plugged in overnight
Child electrocutions are far more likely to happen in homes with older wiring that doesn’t meet current safety standards.
Practical Measures Room by Room
Most household injuries are easily preventable. Keep your little one safe from harm by following our guide which covers each area of the home:
The kitchen is a warm and inviting place to spend time as a family but it also the place where children are most likely to have an accident, especially burns. Try and limit the amount of time your baby spends in the most hazardous room of the house. A door bouncer can be invaluable if you have to get some cooking done.
Drawers – slow closing drawers are kind to tiny hands
Cupboards – cupboard locks and child safety are very effective at keeping harmful substances out of reach, and for keeping tasty snacks out of temptation too! Practice using them first, as some actually quite tricky for adults to open too. You can also use them on bin lids, windows, fridges and freezers – anywhere you want to prevent your child from accessing.
Keep plastic bags, such as sandwich bags, bin liners and cling film out of reach – they are a suffocation hazard. Cling film and tin foil boxes also have jagged edges which are extremely sharp.
A knife block obviously needs to be kept well out of reach.
Distraction is always a good idea with little ones. Keep your toddler busy in the kitchen by having a safe drawer or cupboard filled with plastic jugs, saucepans and wooden spoons etc. that can be explored safely.
Always keep a fire extinguisher and a heat alarm in the kitchen.
If you have a table in the kitchen, avoid using a tablecloth as young hands can easily give it a good tug and send hot dishes crashing to the ground.
Smaller appliances such as toasters and kettles also need to placed back on the worktop so they can’t be dragged down.
Think about adding corner and edge protectors to protect heads from bumping against the sharp edges of counter worktops.
As well as all these measures, it is also important to keep the kitchen floor, surfaces, and cupboards hygienically clean if you have a crawling baby or a small child. Sweep or hoover the floor first then mop with a bucket of boiling water with a cap of concentrated disinfectant. This will lessen the chances of tummy bugs and infections.
The most important safety measure in the bathroom is to never leave your child unattended, even for a moment. If you hear the doorbell or phone ring, scoop up your child in a towel and take them with you rather than leaving them in the bath alone.
A sensible way to avoid bathroom injuries or simply the mess and waste that can result from leaving a pre schooler in a room with shampoos and shower gels is to make the room inaccessible to your child when not in use. Install an outside door latch at a height that the child cannot reach. It’s also a good idea to ensure that the inside lock can also be opened from the outside in case your child accidentally locks themselves in.
Baths can be slippery places when wet so use a rubber bath mat that has a grippy surface. It’s also a good idea to have non-slip rugs on the floor.
Mixer taps are generally safer than separate hot and cold water taps. Take towels and toys in with you so you aren’t tempted to leave the room to fetch anything. As mentioned previously, test the water with your elbow and ideally adjust the setting of your water heater so that the temperature never exceeds 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Watch out for mouldy bath toys. Young children love rubber bath toys such as plastic ducks, but keep an eye on them as their interiors can become filled with black mould which you obviously won’t want to go anywhere near your child’s mouth. The best way of cleaning mouldy bath toys is to put them in a lingerie bag or plastic box and wash them in the dishwasher.
Many toddlers find toilets fascinating so get into the habit of closing the lid when not in use and use a toilet lid lock to prevent a curious baby or toddler from playing around the area – especially as they could easily stumble and fall in.
If you have electrical appliances in the bathroom, such as a razor, always remember to unplug them and put them out of reach when not in use. A bathroom cabinet with a lock is also essential for storing medicines and cosmetics.
The Living Room
Keep houseplants out of reach of young children – some of them may be poisonous.
Make sure that tall free-standing pieces of furniture are securely attached to the wall to prevent them from falling on top of your child.
If you have a fireplace, always have an approved fireguard/safety screen.
A coffee table with sharp corners should be fitted with corner covers.
Don’t have any extension cords in your living room. As well as being a trip hazard, your baby could chew them which could have very unfortunate consequences.
Pillows, comforters and even soft toys should not be placed in the crib or cot during the first four months of your child’s life as they increase the risk of suffocation.
Check that the wooden slots of the cot are too narrow for a child’s head to fit through – the gap should be less than 6 cm.
Once your child is old enough to try and climb, remove any toys and bumpers from the cot as these could be used as ‘stepping stones’ when attempting to escape.
Furnish the room with soft carpet or rugs to minimise the impact of those inevitable tumbles.
Use a window latch to prevent the window from opening to an unsafe extent.
Avoid using a heavy wooden toy box with a latched lid. Open access toy boxes are much safer for small children’ hands.
If you use a changing table for your baby, make sure it has a restraining strap and three raised sides to prevent accidents. However, it is even safer to use a soft padded changing mat on the floor.
Stairs are a fascinating climbing challenge to young children but each year, many under 5s are taken to hospital after having fallen. Buy two stair gates and place one at the top and one at the bottom to ensure your child’s safety. They can be a bit inconvenient to adults, but the safety of your child means that the bother is a price that’s well worth paying. If you live in rented accommodation and don’t want to drill them to the walls you can use no screw stairgates. When your child can walk confidently, spend some time teaching them how to go safely up and down the stairs, holding your hand at first.
Think twice before getting a trampoline – they are more suitable for older children aged 7 plus. If you do give in to the demands, buy one with a proper safety net and a protective spring cover.
If you have a pond or a swimming pool, make sure it also has a safety cover.
This checklist is long and might seem pretty daunting but following the above advice and taking a few simple preventative steps will give you peace of mind and the confidence that comes with knowing that you are doing the very best for your child.
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