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Introduction to Infant Safety

Angela Oswalt, MSW

image by Drew Stephens (lic)This topic center covers parenting and child development of infant children (ages 0-2). For a complete review of the theories of child development upon which this article is based, please visit our Child and Adolescent Development topic center. For coverage of child development and parenting topics applicable to preschool children (early childhood aged 3 to 7 please visit our Early Childhood Parenting and Child Development topic center. For information on parenting and child development of middle childhood children (ages 8 to 11), please visit our Middle Childhood Parenting and Development center and Child Development Theory: Middle Childhood center. For information on parenting adolescents (ages 12-24), please visit our Adolescence Child Development and Parenting and Child Development Theory: Adolescence topic center.

In the first months of life, babies are developing physically, mentally, emotionally and socially by exploring and experimenting with the things in the environment around them. Caregivers can help babies to safely explore their world by attending to and fixing aspects of babies' environments that may be dangerous for them. Caregivers need to baby-proof not only a baby's primary home, but also the car that the baby will be transported in, and the community of other homes and environments that the baby may visit and explore. Reading the following material may be somewhat overwhelming as we will do our best in these pages to point out how the world can be dangerous for babies. However, attending to and acting upon these baby safety tips will help caregivers prevent injuries from occurring.

General House Safety

In the early months of life, babies' favorite exploration tools are their fingers and mouths. Caregivers need to ensure that babies don't have access to materials that may poison or choke them or to objects that may cut or burn them. Caregivers should sweep and vacuum the floors regularly so as to eliminate any tiny debris babies can choke on or ingest. As well, any glass or other breakable or poisonous decorations within the home should be stored out of babies' or toddlers' reach. Houseplants should be identified and researched to determine their toxicity, as some can be relatively harmless, while others may be fatal if ingested.

Caregivers should ensure that any sharp or dangerous objects, such as pocket knives and kitchen knives are stored out of babies' reach. Firearms should be kept in a locked cabinet, and the ammunition should be stored in a separate location. As another form of poison that can look pretty-colored and tempting, all alcohol should also be stored out of reach and/or locked. All matches and lighters should also be stored out of young children's reach, as well as batteries, as they can cause chemical burns if ingested. Empty electric outlets should be covered with plastic covers. Moreover, electrical cords should also be kept out of toddlers' reach by covering them with furniture or rugs or stashing them behind furniture. Taking these actions will help prevent accidental shocks from chewing them or falls from tripping over them. Any electrical equipment that could hurt or shock babies, such as a room fan, tape player or electric mixer, should also be kept out of their reach.

As toddlers begin to crawl and to walk around their environment, caregivers need to ensure that they have safe areas to explore. They should cover any hard, sharp surfaces, such as brick fireplaces or sharp furniture corners, with rubberized mats or pads to lessen the chances of cuts and bruises. Often, caregivers will also put certain furniture, like unsteady coffee tables, in storage for a year or two, until toddlers become more steady on their feet. Caregivers should also be aware that furniture with movable parts, such as reclining chairs or daybeds can be hazardous if a child becomes stuck in moving pieces. All dangling ropes and cords, especially window blind cords, need to be shortened and/or tucked out of reach so babies cannot strangle themselves or pull heavy objects down upon themselves.

Caregivers can utilize baby gates to block babies' access to certain areas that may be too dangerous for them to explore when caregivers' direct attention and presence is not available. Baby gates should always be used at the top and bottom of stairs for extra protection. In addition, parents can use other devices, such as socks over doorknobs or doorknob child-proofing devices, to hinder toddlers' access to rooms such as the basement or garage that are off-limits. Babies will use amazing talent to get to places caregivers would never imagine they could reach. For this reason, parents should also keep windows shut and locked if babies are present. If they have to be open, keep them open on the top (rather than on the bottom) or have window guards installed so that babies cannot fall out. Insect screens are not secure enough to prevent a child from falling out a window!

Caregivers should keep outside doors locked to prevent babies from walking outside alone. They can also prevent toddlers from running into large windows or glass doors by putting decorative decals at the baby's eye level on the doors. To prevent finger pinches, caregivers can install guards in sliding glass doors or put rubber bands around door hinges, so that the doors don't automatically slam shut all the way.

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