Kids really do grow up fast. Milestones come and go, which makes fatherhood fresh and rewarding and awesome. But it is also dangerous, because while one day little Sally is learning to crawl, the next she’s cartwheeling right into oncoming traffic.
In fact, in the US alone, an average of 6 kids die each day from accidental injuries at home. So if you’re thinking — I don’t need to babyproof. My kid is smart; she won’t crawl down the stairs/eat that battery/play in the toilet — I encourage you to think again. Because while a toddler’s motor skills are continually improving, her judgement is still years away.
But worry not, because what we have here is your painless, but complete, guide to babyproofing. We’re not gonna overdo it — there’s no need to cover your walls in bubble wrap and sleep the child in a hazmat suit. No, instead we’re gonna use research and facts to uncover your home’s most dangerous areas, and then babyproof the shit out of them. Sound good?
When should I babyproof?
Some kids crawl at as early as 5 months, so the child’s 4 month birthday would, by default, be a good time to start babyproofing. But if you’ve read any baby book, you know your child is UNIQUE and SPECIAL and develops at her own rate. So if you want a custom plan for your special little girl, then the motor milestones below often precede crawling and are a sign that mobility is coming:
- Sitting independently
- Doing mini push-ups
- Rocking on hands and knees
- Crawling backwards
Don’t wait too long, though, because babies learn fast. My wife and I lost a week of our lives watching the girl crawl around the house unprotected, waiting for our babyproofing items to arrive from Amazon.
Safety around the house
Some rooms are more hazardous than others, but before entering the bowels of the bathroom and kitchen, let’s look at safety throughout the house.
Stairs. A toddler has all the coordination of a frat boy after a box of Franzia, so it should surprise no one that falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries among children 0-4. Clumsiness becomes downright dangerous, though, when its mixed with a flight of stairs. To avoid a nasty tumble, install safety gates at the top and bottom of each flight.
Bad news: You will likely need to purchase some babyproofing items. The good news is the Equipment section at the end of this post summarizes every product we’ll cover and also includes links to specific recommendations.
Windows. Safety gates won’t prevent your child from falling from a window, but here’s what will:
- Keep all reachable windows locked.
- Move furniture away from windows (to prevent baby from crawling up and out).
- Install window guards (more info in the equipment section).
Blinds. If you didn’t spring for cordless window treatments (and with the price of blinds these days who can blame you) make sure the cords aren’t a strangulation hazard:
- Eliminate cords from the nursery and play areas.
- Install blind cord wind ups.
- Replace shades with looped cords, as they have been banned since 1995.
Sliding glass doors. We bought our house with all the intention of adding a deck, but then we discovered how much decks cost. Now, a sliding glass door is all that separates the kitchen from a 15 foot death drop into the backyard. If you, too, have a death drop, it might be wise to consider a permanent door stopper.
Bookcases and dressers. I just spent 10 minutes reading about tipping furniture tragedies and it ruined my day. In an effort to raise awareness regarding this not-so-obvious household hazard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission established Anchor It!, a campaign dedicated exclusively to preventing furniture related injury and death. Using the guidelines from this program, here are 3 ways to keep kids safe.
- Remove tempting objects from the top of furniture.
- Anchor top-heavy furniture to the wall using brackets, braces, or anti-tip straps.
- Avoid purchasing cheap, unstable furniture like this MALM dresser from Ikea, which is responsible for 3 deaths since 2014. Further details on the recall here.
Flat screen TVs. In truly tragic living room news, toppling televisions send a child to the ER every 45 minutes. The easiest way to preserve both your child and centerpiece of family entertainment? Mount the TV to the wall and ensure cords are up and out of the way. If you don’t want the TV on the wall, secure it to a TV stand using anti-tip straps.
Electrical cords. Hide cords behind furniture and eliminate instances where pulling a cord could bring an appliance down onto the child.
Electrical outlets. When drafting my babyproofing to-do list, I wondered how dangerous are outlets really? Like is the girl actually gonna find a conductive item, crawl to an open outlet, and fill it full of metal? Do I need to secure EVERY unused outlet in the house? Well, as it turns out, it depends.
Pictured above are two outlets. If you look closely at the tamper resistant (TR) version, you can see plastic within the vertical slots. These are spring loaded shutters, which close off access to the, how do I say this, electricity part. The only way to complete an electrical circuit and bypass the shutters is to compress both simultaneously, like when inserting a plug.
To increase home safety, TR outlets were made standard in 2008, and because of the shutters, are already babyproofed (TR outlets are usually marked with ‘TR’ somewhere on the outlet face; however, on the outlets in our house the marking is on the metal screw plate).
Now, if your house was built before 2008, it likely is equipped with standard outlets, and you DO need to babyproof. Every year 2,400 kids suffer shocks or burns from electrical outlets, and 12 of these injuries result in death, hence the birth of the tamper resistant outlet. The good news is securing standard outlets is easy and inexpensive.
- If you can, bump furniture up against unused outlets.
- Use outlet covers for any remaining outlets.
Houseplants. A few years ago, we removed all houseplants (real and fake) because the dog would eat the dirt and fake moss then barf it up on the carpet. If, however, you don’t own some big dumb animal and are allowed to have nice things like houseplants, make sure they aren’t poisonous. Here is a list of the most common toxic houseplants from Better Homes and Gardens.
- Dumb Cane
- Easter Lily
- English Ivy
- Peace Lily
- Sago Palm
- ZZ Plant
Miscellaneous choking and strangulation hazards. Tiny windpipes and the incessant need to ‘mouth’ any object in sight make suffocation the leading cause of accidental death among kids 0-4. It’s important to keep all choking and strangulation items out of reach. Here are some dangerous and not so obvious hazards:
- Beads (from toys or bean bags)
- Daily vitamins
- Dog food
- Laptop cords
- Pens (parts)
- Phone chargers
Button batteries. My grandma warned me about button batteries — that allegedly kids swallow them, and they burn through the esophagus in as little as 2 hours.
Now, initially I ignored this warning because it sounded a lot like old person paranoia, but then I saw this online. Then this. And then this. And now here I am warning you about button batteries. Common items that use these batteries include:
- Garage door openers
- Key fobs
If you think your child has ingested a battery, head immediately to the emergency room. If you don’t know where the nearest emergency room is, you should probably figure that out. Signs of battery ingestion include:
- Throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children 1-4, and poisoning is the 3rd leading cause among children under 1. The bathroom has water and usually prescription pills and household cleaners. Consider a gate to prevent jr from wandering in unsupervised. Additionally…
- Set your water heater at or below 120F to prevent scalding.
- Never leave standing water in a sink or bathtub.
- Lock cleaners, medicine, mouthwash, toothpaste, and hair and skin products in a cupboard with a safety lock.
- Install a safety lock on the toilet.
- Add the Nationwide Poison Control number to your contacts 1-800-222-1222.
Note: 38% of all child poisoning cases are a result of a grandparent’s medication. If your kid’s gonna visit granny, make sure her house is safe, too.
I try to keep my girl out of the kitchen because of, you know, the boiling water, and glass dishes, and my wife dropping knives at a frequency that will make you swear to God she is doing so intentionally. But of course when I’m in the kitchen, the child also wants to be in the kitchen. A few simple adjustments can make for a safer cooking area.
Use high chair straps. I’m a big fan of the high chair. I plop the girl down. She’s contained. She’s off the floor and away from falling cutlery. She can see us. We can see her. We toss her some fuckin Cheerios. She lets us cook dinner. Everyone is happy.
Then, one day, the sanctity of the beloved high chair was compromised when the girl realized she could simply stand up. Fortunately, I was there to grab her, but many other children aren’t as lucky.
High chairs are the second leading baby product associated with infant injury. Of recorded cases, 93% were caused by a fall and in 66% of these incidents the child was reportedly standing or climbing prior to injury. So use the straps before you realize that you need to.
More kitchen safety:
- Rearrange cupboards so all glass and hazardous items are stored up and out of reach.
- Don’t leave knives sitting on the counter. Keep them in a knife block or an out of reach drawer.
- Consider a safety lock to keep the oven closed when in use.
- Install covers on trash and recycling receptacles.
- Store household cleaners out of reach or in a cupboard with a safety lock.
- Use back burners, and keep pot handles from hanging over the stove.
- Pay special attention to appliances on kitchen islands. My daughter’s favorite thing about breakfast is grabbing at the low-hanging cords of the waffle iron and griddle.
The baby product associated with the most infant deaths? The crib. And while it’s always important to keep sleeping areas free of stuffed animals and other suffocation hazards, take extra precaution once the child becomes mobile.
- Lower the crib mattress to avoid climbing/tumbling out.
- Remove mobiles to avoid entanglement.
- Re-evaluate baby monitor placement. Now that the child can crawl and climb, a baby monitor, and its cord, need to be a minimum of three feet from the crib.
- Use open-air toy bins to avoid slamming lids.
- Never leave a child unattended on the changing table — the fifth leading baby product associated with injury.
- Use only cordless window coverings on all nursery windows.
- Store lawn products, gas and other chemicals up high.
- Keep sharp and dangerous tools in a locker or out of reach.
- Ensure garage doors are equipped with both automatic reverse and automatic stop features. Unsure if your garage door has these features? Watch this video.
- Clean up dog shit so the kid doesn’t help herself to a snack.
- Make sure your deck has a gate and all railings are secure.
- Use extra caution around pools and ponds.
I have good news, and I have better news. The good news is I’m done lecturing on the dangers of your home. The better news is, regardless of how dangerous your home may be, here is a complete list of items to make it safer, all of which can be purchased right here on your computer or mobile device by clicking on the links.
Safety gates are available both with and without swing doors. To help determine which style is best for you, consider the following:
- How often is the child in this specific area?
- What are the consequences if I take this gate down and forget to put it back up?
For example, our stairs (going down) are right outside the girl’s nursery. Because the girl hangs out here, and because forgetting to put the gate up could mean a serious head first tumble, we installed this walk-thru gate.
Because the gate is at the top of the stairs, the installation instructions recommended I screw the gate into the wall for maximum stability. However, that sounded like a project, so I said to hell with the screws, purchased these rubber wall savers instead, and am happy to report that this gate is rock solid. You couldn’t drive a tank through it.
We also purchased this easily moveable bamboo gate for when the girl must be temporarily contained.
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