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How to keep your baby safe: 4 biggest at-home hazards

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 2,000 children die each year as a result of unintentional home injury
  • Highest rates are among babies under a year
  • Choose hardware-mounted gates for the top and bottom of the stairs
  • To cut suffocation risk, instead of blankets, use infant sleep sack that zips to chin
  • Next Article in Health »
By Hallie Levine Sklar
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Leah McCammon was just five days short of her first birthday when she was severely burned in her grandmother's bathtub. "My mother stepped out for just 30 seconds to get my other daughter from the living room," recalls Leah's mom, Shelly McCammon, an Atlanta, Georgia, interior designer. "In that time, Leah pulled herself up by grabbing the faucet and turned it on, sending 128-degree water splashing down." Three days later, Leah died.

Put hardware-mounted gates at the top and bottom of the stairs. And make sure your baby's head can't fit through.

It's tragic but true: More than 2,000 children die each year as a result of unintentional home injury, and the highest rates are among babies under a year, according to the Home Safety Council. Here, the four leading causes of infant death and injury at home -- and how to prevent them.


Danger: Too few baby gates

"Parents often put gates at the top of stairs but not at the bottom, so their child crawls up and then falls right back down," says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council. Another potential problem: pressure gates, which can be pushed over.

Lifesaver: Choose hardware-mounted gates for the top and bottom of the stairs. And make sure the gates' openings are small enough that your baby's head can't fit through.

Danger: Baby walkers

In 2004 more than 3,900 kids under the age of 4 were treated in the emergency room for baby-walker-related injuries. Even more alarming, 80 percent of infants who suffer these injuries are being supervised, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

Lifesaver: Ditch the walker. "Research shows they don't even teach babies to walk," says Leslie Feuerborn, injury prevention and education coordinator at Children's Hospital of Denver, Colorado. Keeping things safe for your brand-new walker

Danger: Unattended babies in carriers

"Parents may think that if they strap their babies in, they can leave them alone in a car seat on a table," says Karen Sheehan, M.D., medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. "But we've seen many cases where babies wiggled out and fell off a table, causing severe head injury."

Lifesaver: Never leave your baby alone in a carrier on a high surface like a countertop or dryer. Avoiding mistakes even smart moms make


Danger: Sleeping with your baby in the bed

Unintentional choking or suffocation is the leading cause of infant death -- and 60 percent of these tragedies occur in beds or cribs. "We've been seeing a lot more cases where the babies were suffocated by sleeping with their parents," says Ruth Borgen, M.D., director of pediatric emergency medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Lifesaver: If you want your baby to be within arm's reach at night, put him in a crib that attaches to the side of your bed.

Danger: A cluttered crib

Pillows and blankets may look cute, but they can roll on top of your baby; if she doesn't have the strength to roll over, she can suffocate. Lifesaver: Instead of a blanket, buy an infant sleep sack that zips up to your baby's chin.

Danger: Coin-size foods

Grapes, popcorn, raisins, slices of hot dog -- anything that's between the size of a dime and a quarter can block your baby's windpipe. Lifesaver: Cut grapes in quarters and hot dogs lengthwise when you're cutting them into pieces, and don't leave bowls of nuts or candy on tables within your baby's reach. "I recommend every new parent take a first-aid class at their American Red Cross or children's hospital," says Dr. Sheehan.


Danger: Water in cleaning buckets

About 30 children -- most of them infants -- die each year from drowning in buckets. "The baby crawls over, falls headfirst into the bucket, and then can't right himself," says Feuerborn. Lifesaver: Make sure your baby is secure in his crib or playpen while you're cleaning. (Also keep toilet lids shut so he can't topple in.)

Danger: Infant bathing seats

More than half of infant drownings occur in bathtubs -- but don't buy a bathing seat because you think it will make tubtime safer. There have been hundreds of deaths and injuries related to baby bath seats, which give parents a false sense of security, so they leave their babies unattended in them. "Usually, the suction cups on the bottom of the seat detach from the tub, and the baby gets trapped underwater in the seat," says Dr. Sheehan. Lifesaver: Skip the bathing seat; instead, be sure all supplies are within reach of where you'll be washing your baby (whether it's a bathtub or baby tub), says Dr. Sheehan. And never turn your back. Bath seat safety

Danger: Kiddie pools

Each year an estimated 300 children under age 4 drown in swimming pools -- something to keep in mind if you're taking a warm-weather vacation this season. "We're particularly worried about the larger wading pools," says Appy. "Parents don't usually empty them after each use, but because they're smaller than built-in pools, parents don't invest in safety precautions like fences." Lifesaver: If you have a large wading pool, consider buying a small fence with a gate to encircle it. Also, if you're visiting someone who has a pool, don't assume safety precautions have been taken, and always stay within arm's length of your baby.

Fires and burns

Danger: A too-hot home water heater

A child exposed to 140-degree water for three seconds will suffer third-degree burns. Lifesaver: Set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a building where you don't have access to the water heater, use an anti-scald device like Hot Stop, a spout that shuts off water if it rises above 120 degrees.

Danger: Spilled coffee

"I'm amazed at how many ER burns I see where it turns out a parent was juggling an infant and a cup of coffee at the same time," says Dr. Sheehan. Lifesaver: If you're sipping hot liquid, use a travel mug. And never leave a cup of coffee or bowl of soup on a kitchen table. "We see a lot of cases where an infant has pulled on a tablecloth and the liquid has spilled all over him," says Feuerborn.

Danger: An outdated smoke alarm

Two-thirds of child deaths and injuries in residential fires occur in homes where there's no working smoke alarm. But even if you have an alarm in your house, it may not function as well as you expect. "If your smoke alarm is older than ten years, it will start to lose sensitivity," says Appy. Lifesaver: Replace any smoke alarm that's more than 10 years old, and test all your alarms once a month by pushing the alarm button. When shopping for alarms, look for ones that interconnect, so that when one goes off, they all do (that way you'll be alerted to a fire in the basement even if you're upstairs). If it's not time to replace your alarms yet, consider hiring an electrician to interconnect the ones you already have. Advice for your biggest baby worries E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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Hallie Levine Sklar writes frequently about health for Glamour and Self.

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