Childproofing your Nursery

For new parents, a baby’s safety is one of the most important priorities. Most infants’ very early years are spent primarily in the home. But what many new parents fail to realize is that the home can be one of the most dangerous places for a child. Each year, about 1,900 children ages 14 and under die, and nearly 4.5 million are injured where they should feel safest -- in the home. Most deaths are among children ages 4 and under, making it crucial for parents to keep safety top of mind when preparing the nursery.

“Parents can take safety into consideration while at the same time providing an entertaining, attractive and loving environment for a baby,” says Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. “Parents should be careful both in the selection of the furniture and decoration, including their arrangement and use.”

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign offers the following suggestions for the nursery to help give your baby a healthy and safe start:


If you live in a house or apartment built before 1978, a lead abatement professional should check any painted walls for lead. Your child can get lead poisoning from ingesting or breathing in lead dust or fumes or swallowing anything with lead in it. Lead poisoning in children can cause learning disabilities, hyperactivity and other neurological problems. It is estimated that nearly 1 million children ages 5 and under have blood lead levels high enough to affect intelligence and development.

If there is lead paint in your home, the paint should be completely removed or covered with an approved sealant. Make sure no children or pets are in the house while the lead paint is being removed. Once the lead paint is gone, the walls can either be repainted with latex, plastic-based or enamel paint, or covered with water-resistant wallpaper.


Smooth, washable floors are recommended in nurseries because they are easier to keep clean. If you choose to have wall-to-wall carpeting, select a flat design in a synthetic fiber, such as nylon. Thick, bushy carpets -- such as shag -- can hide dirt, food and small objects that can become a choking hazard to your child. If you use area rugs, be sure they have non-skid backings.

The Crib

One of the most dangerous pieces of baby furniture is the crib. In fact, approximately 50 infants die each year from crib-related incidents. To help prevent your child from being injured in the crib, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends the following:

Purchase a crib that has been certified to meet national safety standards. Be sure it has a Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certification label. Handing down a crib from one generation to another may carry sentimental value, but older cribs do not always meet today’s safety standards.

Choose a crib with no more than 2 3/8 inches of space between the slats or the spindles. Be sure there are no missing or loose slats or spindles -- the baby’s head can get caught, presenting a strangulation hazard.

Test the drop side latches to assure the baby cannot open them. Be sure they work properly and are safe from unintentional release.

Always keep the side rail locked in its top position when the baby is in the crib.

Use vinyl or cloth bumper pads to keep the baby from hitting against the side of the crib. Secure the pads with snaps or at least six straps tied securely on the outside of the crib, away from the baby. Trim the excess straps to less than 7 inches so that they are not a strangulation or choking hazard. As soon as the baby can pull up or stand, remove the bumper pads, toys and other objects that could be used to climb out of the crib.

Do not use a crib that has any corner post extensions or protrusions greater than 1/16 inch, including decorative knobs. Infants might catch their clothing and strangle.

Never use a pillow in the crib and make sure no soft bedding, plastic bags or other plastic materials are in or around the crib.

Do not place the crib near radiators, heating vents, windows, window blind strings, drapery cords or other hanging strings.

Always place babies on their backs when putting them to sleep.

The Mattress

Mattresses must fit snugly against all four sides of the crib. If you can fit more than two fingers between the edge of the mattress and the crib, then the mattress is too small. A baby can suffocate if his or her head is trapped between the mattress and crib. Check regularly to ensure that all four mattress support hangers are securely held in hooks attached to the corner posts.

Before placing the mattress in the crib, remove and discard all plastic wrappings. Make sure that your child is unable to climb out of the crib when the mattress is in it. The mattress should be at least 26 inches below the top rails of the drop side. If the mattress is any higher than this, an active baby might be able to climb over the rail.

Dressers, Chests and Changing Tables

Whatever type of furniture you plan to purchase or borrow for your nursery, keep the following in mind:

Do not use any furniture with sharp edges.

Use a changing table with safety straps to secure your baby. However, the straps are not a substitute for adult supervision. Never leave your child unattended on a changing table -- not even for a second.

Avoid turning your back on your baby to reach for supplies. Keep all baby supplies, diapers and toiletries nearby, but not within your child’s reach. Keep one hand on your child at all times.

Consider using large plastic bins or open bookshelves for storage. These pieces of furniture are often safer than chests or dressers with large or heavy drawers without safety latches. Use toy chests without lids or chests with safety hinges that prevent lids from dropping to a fully closed position. Be sure to bolt bookshelves and heavy furniture to walls to avoid tipovers.

Keep furniture away from windows and draperies to prevent falls.

Crib Toys and Mobiles

Bright and cheerful crib toys and mobiles can provide hours of entertainment for a newborn. However, it is important to keep in mind that some of these items -- including crib gyms that stretch across the crib, and suspended toys, music boxes and mirrors specifically marketed for use in the crib -- can be very dangerous. Hanging toys are particularly hazardous for children who can push up on their hands and knees. By using the following tips, you can provide your child with lots of safe fun.

Avoid strings on any product for your baby, including pacifiers and rattles.

Beware of toys and mobiles with small detachable parts that easily can be removed and swallowed.

Remove all toys from the crib when your child is asleep.

Remove mobiles as soon as your child can push up on his or her hands and knees.

Childproof the Room

When you aren’t used to having little ones around, the idea of childproofing can seem a little daunting. It’s easy to miss some of the more subtle dangers in the home,” Paul said. Move around the room on your hands and knees. Approach it from a child’s perspective and you’re more inclined to see potential hazards you otherwise might miss.”

Following are a few guidelines for childproofing:

Pick small objects off the floor and place out of baby’s reach.

Use safety covers for all electrical outlets.

Remove all furniture with sharp edges. If you cannot remove the furniture, attach foam padding or corner guards to the edges to round and soften them.

Install window guards on all windows that are not designated fire escape

routes -- especially if you live in a high-rise apartment building.

Install drawer and cabinet locks.

Keep electrical wires, lamps and lighting fixtures out of reach.

The nursery is the beginning of your child’s journey through life. With careful thought and planning, you can help reduce your newborn’s risk of injury.

For more information about how to childproof your home, please visit The National SAFEKIDS website at www.safekids.org

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign is the first and only national organization dedicated solely to the prevention of unintentional childhood injury -- the number one killer of children ages 14 and under. More than 280 State and Local SAFE KIDS Coalitions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico comprise the Campaign. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., is chairman of the Campaign.


Copyright 2002 All About Baby& Child
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