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Nursery/Playroom Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Caregivers can follow some simple guidelines to keep diaper changing safe. Babies' changing tables should meet basic safety requirements with regard to their construction. Changing tables that include safety belts offer the most protection. However, even with those precautions in place, babies should never be left alone on a changing table, even for a moment, to reduce the risk of falls. If babies, or especially older toddlers, are too squirmy to safely remain on a changing table, parents can consider changing diapers on a clean blanket placed on the clean floor. Also, to prevent poisoning, caregivers should be careful to keep all medications, diaper ointments, lotions, etc. away from the changing table (and even away from open lower shelves if a toddler is mobile and allowed to walk around their nursery space). As well, diaper pails should either be locked or kept in a separate space when mobile toddlers roam freely around their nursery/changing space.

There are many baby products on the market today, such as walkers, baby swings, and playpens that have been designed to entertain infants and young toddlers. In order to insure child safety, caregivers need to take precautions when using these products. The use of walkers, in particular, is greatly discouraged today for numerous reasons. Walker use has contributed to many accidents and emergency room visits. In a typical scenario, a baby uses a walker to gain too much momentum and falls downs stairs or across thresholds. Walkers are also developmentally harmful to babies because they prevent babies from developing their muscles in a normal natural manner. Walker use can actually slow down the time it takes a baby to begin walking on its own. Baby swings can be used safely for infants, but caregivers must always be present and observe their use to prevent any unusual falls or movements.

Given the safety risks associated with walkers and swings, some caregivers might think to themselves, "I'll just keep my child in the safe playpen and not worry about it." However, playpen use also needs to be monitored. Playpens should meet currently accepted safety standards as discussed above with regard to design and construction. Even safely constructed playpens have their associated risks, however. Long periods spent in a playpen can also deter babies' development because playpens restrict babies' range of motion and space and thus may stunt their normal development. Used properly, playpens can be valuable resources that help caregivers as they step out of the room or house momentarily (such as to get the mail from the porch or to change a load of laundry in the basement). Short-term playpen use is fine. Long-term infant confinement in a playpen, however, may cause a problem.

Caregivers can also ensure playtime safety by being aware of the toys and objects in the play space. When buying toys, parents should inspect labels for age recommendations. If a toy is labeled for children ages 3 and up, it means that there are pieces of that toy that could become dislodged and choke an infant or toddler in play. Even if a toy is recommended for children under 3 years old, caregivers should still inspect toys regularly to make sure that there are no loose or tearing pieces that could create a choking hazard.

While shopping, caregivers can also look for other toy safety features such as construction using fire retardant, non-toxic, or machine washable materials. As well, young children often find more joy in the wrapping or box that a toy came in more than the actual toy itself. While that can be amusing for parents to watch, they need to ensure that babies and toddlers are never allowed to play with plastic bags or packing materials, as these can easily create suffocation hazards.

To keep toys organized, parents can store them in large baskets or plastic totes without lids or with removable, snuggly snapping lids. If caregivers want to use hinge-topped toy boxes, they should ensure that the hinges are spring-loaded (which will remain open in any position) to prevent pinched fingers and prevent bumps and bruises.

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