While you daydream about papering or painting your nursery in pinks or blues, you also need to think about your baby's safety. You'll want to begin childproofing the nursery by the time you're about 7 months pregnant, keeping these safety tips in mind:
Crib safety basics
You might be tempted to borrow a crib from a friend or relative, or to use the one still stored in your mom's attic, but be careful. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), about 35 babies every year suffocate or strangle in cribs that don't meet current safety standards or when they become trapped between broken crib parts.
When you buy a crib, look for the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association label, which ensures that the product was designed with safety in mind. Also check the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's list of recalled products to see whether your crib – or the one you're planning to buy – has been recalled.
If your crib is older or borrowed, be extra careful.
- Make sure crib slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (you shouldn't be able to fit a soda can between the slats) to prevent your baby's body from slipping or getting caught between the bars. The crib shouldn't have any missing or broken slats.
- The mattress should fit snugly – you shouldn't be able to slip more than two fingers between the mattress and the side of the crib.
- Don't buy a drop-side crib. Drop sides were standard on cribs for decades, but as of 2010, millions had been recalled and they had been blamed for the deaths of at least 32 babies since 2001. By June 2010 many manufacturers had stopped manufacturing cribs with drop sides. And in December 2010 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finally banned the sale, resale, and manufacture of drop-side cribs in the United States. If your child sleeps in a drop-side crib, the CPSC recommends making sure that the drop-side mechanism works properly and that the crib itself hasn’t been recalled.
- Corner posts or finials should be no higher than 1/16 of an inch and no shorter than 16 inches if there's a canopy.
- The wood should be smooth with no splinters. And if the crib's painted, make sure the paint isn't peeling.
- Steer clear of any headboard or footboard with decorative cutouts that could entrap your baby's head or limbs.
Learn eight key steps to creating a safe home environment for your mobile baby or toddler.
In and around the crib
Your baby will spend a lot of unsupervised time in her crib. And when you least expect it, she'll discover ways to grab nearby objects and climb (or tumble) out of the crib.
Don't hang anything over the crib with a string that's longer than 7 inches. Once your baby can push up on her hands and knees, you'll have to remove that adorable mobile and any toys that hang down into the crib because they can be strangulation hazards. When she can pull herself up to a standing position move the mattress to its lowest position.
When deciding where to put the crib in your baby's nursery, keep more than design in mind. Create a safety zone around the crib by positioning it away from windows, heaters, lamps, wall decorations (including stick-on decals that could fall off the wall and into the crib), cords, and furniture your baby could climb on.
Window blinds pose a particular hazard because your baby's neck could become trapped in the cords that raise the blinds or run through the slats. If the crib must be near a window, either cut off the pull cords or use cord shorteners, safety tassles, or wind-ups to keep them out of reach.
Window blinds sold since November 2000 have attachments on the pull cords that prevent a loop from forming between the slats. If you bought your blinds before November 2000, visit the Window Covering Safety Council Web site or call (800) 506-4636 to order a free repair kit.
SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is one of a parent's biggest fears, but there are ways to reduce the risk. Always put your baby to sleep on her back. Her sleep surface should be firm and flat. Never use pillows, bumper pads, or fluffy bedding in the crib, and keep stuffed animals out, too.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents use warm sleepwear with feet in place of a blanket, so there are no loose objects in the crib. Get tips for keeping your baby warm in the crib without blankets.
From crib to big bed
Once your child is 35 inches tall or can climb or fall over the side of the crib, it's time to think about switching to a bed. If your child's not quite ready for a big kid bed, you can ease the transition with a smaller toddler bed or by putting the crib's mattress or a regular mattress on the floor.
When your child makes the move to a big bed, fit it with a guardrail to prevent falls. Remember that she's used to sleeping in an enclosed space. Put some pillows or something soft next to the bed, just in case she manages to roll out.
Jodi Mindell, our sleep expert, has a few things to say about the developmental issues to consider when moving a child from crib to bed.
Once your baby's older than 9 months, her sleepwear should be either flame-resistant or snug-fitting, according to the CPSC. T-shirts and other loose-fitting sleepwear catch fire more easily and can burn your child. In fact, the CPSC says such sleepwear is associated with 200 to 300 emergency room visits each year.
Snug-fitting sleepwear – whether flame-retardant or not – is less likely to catch on fire and won't burn as rapidly, because there's less air between the clothing and your baby's skin. Clothes that aren't flame-resistant are now labeled with a yellow tag, which indicates they need to fit snugly for safety. The CPSC exempts sleepwear for younger babies (sizes under 9 months) from this requirement because infants aren't mobile enough to expose themselves to sources of fire.
Changing table and other furniture
Never leave your baby unattended on the changing table and always use the safety strap. Store supplies such as baby lotion, baby oil, and diaper wipes within your reach but far away from your infant's grasp. And always keep one hand on your baby when she's on the changing table. Even so, you may want to keep a soft rug next to the changing table to provide cushioning in case of a fall. For added security, brace the table to the wall.
Toy chests are often an unrecognized hazard. Many new toy chests now come with a spring-loaded hinge on the lid to prevent the lid from slamming shut on your child's hand. If you're using a chest with a regular hinge, consider replacing it with a spring-loaded one. Or remove the lid altogether. Chests should also have air holes or other openings for ventilation, in case your child gets trapped inside (for example, if one child closes the lid on another).
As in the rest of the house, secure tall furniture such as dressers and bookshelves to the walls with braces or anchors to prevent them from toppling over on your child. And remember to close dresser drawers when you're done with them to prevent your child from bumping her head or closing her hand in a drawer.
Put plastic outlet protectors over all unused electrical outlets.
Finally, if your nursery doesn't already have a working smoke detector, install one. Many parents also install a carbon monoxide detector somewhere in the house, perhaps outside the nursery door. Change the batteries in both at least once a year.
For tips on how to keep your baby safe in every room of your home, see Childproofing Around the House.