Choosing Safe Baby Products
Even though babies are small and seem uncomplicated, there's nothing small or simple about their accessories! Selecting products for your baby can be confusing, especially with all the new gadgets and features available (not to mention the many product recalls).
But one overriding consideration must never be compromised when choosing baby products, whether you're buying, borrowing, or accepting a hand-me-down: your little one's safety.
Baby bathtubs give parents a safe way to wash a wet, slippery baby. The angle of the tub helps free a parent's hands for washing.
Things to keep in mind when choosing an infant bathtub
- A tub made of thick plastic will stay firm in the center, even under the weight of the water.
- Inflatable tubs and bath buckets are dangerous.
- Bath rings and bath seats can tip over and should be avoided.
- The bathtub should have slip-resistant backing to keep it from moving.
- Bathtubs with foam cushions are dangerous because your baby could tear off pieces and swallow them.
- Don't choose a tub with rough edges, which can scratch your baby.
- An infant-to-toddler tub will last longer as it can be adjusted when your baby grows.
- Some bathtubs have plastic slots or indentations that can hold soap, shampoo, and other cleaning supplies.
- A plug at the bottom of the tub makes draining the water easier.
- Only adults or other experienced caregivers should give babies baths. Baths can be dangerous for babies, because babies can drown in as little as an inch of water.
- Gather all of your baby's bathing supplies ahead of time, including shampoo, soap, washcloth, towel, clean clothes, and a clean diaper/wipes.
- Always keep one hand on your baby while he or she is in water.
- Always touch the water to check the temperature before putting your baby in the bathtub. Water that is too hot can burn babies.
- Always take your baby with you if you have to answer the door or the phone or if you're needed elsewhere in the house.
- Always empty the bathtub and turn it upside down when it is not being used.
Babies love and need close contact, and infant carriers are ideal for nestling them against their parents. Most injuries that happen with these carriers are from falls. The two types of carriers are soft, pouch-like ones for young babies, and structured frame carriers for older babies.
What to look for
- The carrier should have straps that prevent your baby from falling or crawling out. Look for firm, padded head support. Find one that fits your baby's size and weight, and make sure that the carrier is deep enough to support the back and that the leg openings are small enough to prevent your baby from slipping out.
- Check for ease of use. Some of the soft wrap styles are hard to put on because of numerous straps.
- A framed carrier should have a kickstand that locks in the open position. The folding mechanism should be free of pinch points that could catch your baby's fingers. Look for padding on the metal frame around the infant's face.
- Try the pack on for comfort, both with the baby in it and without.
- Ideally, the fabric should be durable with strong stitching or large heavy fasteners to prevent slippage.
- Pockets or zippered compartments are handy for storing frequently needed items.
- Never use a framed carrier before your infant is 4 to 5 months old, and don't use it as an infant seat. It can tip over without warning.
- Use restraining straps at all times if your carrier has them.
- If you need to lean over, bend from the knees rather than the waist to prevent the baby from falling out of the carrier.
- Check the carrier periodically to look for loose fasteners or ripped seams.
Generally, you can choose from three kinds of changing tables:
- wooden ones with guardrails
- fold-up models
- hinged chest adapters
Hinged chest adapters are not recommended — dressers with these adapters have toppled over when a baby's weight was placed close to the outer edge.
Babies can get hurt if they fall off changing tables, so they should always be watched closely.
What to look for
- A flat changing surface should be surrounded on all four sides by a guardrail, which should be at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) in height.
- The surface of the changing table should be lower in the middle than on the sides, which helps keep the baby from rolling from side to side. A contoured pillow (lower in the middle) will add to the safety provided by the changing table's shape,
- Wooden changing tables with rails are usually the least likely to sway or tip over when a baby pulls on them from the floor.
- Fold-up models should be checked for sturdiness: When the table is open, give it a good shake.
- A wire changing table should have a wide base so that a baby can't pull it over on top of himself or herself from the floor.
- The table should have shelves or compartments for storing everything you'll need. This prevents you from taking your eyes off your baby while you look for that hard-to-find item.
- Use the safety belt every time you change your baby.
- Never leave your infant unattended even if you think he or she is secure.
- Always keep one hand on your baby.
- You should keep supplies within your reach, but out of the baby's reach.
- Stop using your changing table when your baby reaches the age or weight limit recommended by the manufacturer, which is typically age 2, or 30 pounds (13,607 grams).
When you choose a crib, check it carefully to make sure that your baby's sleep space is safe.
What to look for
- A crib with no drop-side rail: The side rails should not be able to move. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the sale of drop-side rails for safety reasons. Do not buy or accept a used crib with a drop-side rail.
- Safe slat distance: The distance between slats must be no more than 2-3/8 inches (6 centimeters) to protect infants from falling out and toddlers from trapping their heads between the slats.
- The firmest mattress you can find. Don't rely on manufacturers' labels — test it yourself by pushing firmly on the center and all sides of the mattress. Make sure the mattress holds firm and springs back in place quickly. This is extremely important because soft mattresses may play a role in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- A mattress that fits snugly in the crib. This keeps a baby from slipping in between the mattress and the crib sides. Make sure to remove any plastic mattress packaging before use. If you use a mattress pad, buy one that fits tightly.
- Corner posts that are the right height: If the crib has corner posts, they must be either flush with the top of the headboard and footboard or very tall — over 16 inches (41 centimeters). Anything in between is a potential strangulation hazard.
- If you are getting a used crib, check it with extra care:
- Avoid cribs older than 10 years old: They may not meet the most recent safety standards. There may be too much space between slats or decorative cut-outs in the headboard and footboard that can trap a baby's head. A crib made before 1978 may have a finish that contains lead, so a crib that has been in the family for generations won't be the best one to use!
- Check the condition of the crib: Check that the crib has all of its hardware and that all parts and slats are in good condition. Only use manufacturer-provided parts if any repairs are needed. Make sure you have a manual to assemble it properly.
- Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep.
- Make sure the crib has not been recalled by the manufacturer.
- Check all screws and hardware regularly and tighten them if necessary.
- A bare bed is best. Don't place bumper pads, soft bedding, or soft toys (blankets, fluffy comforters, pillows, plush toys) in your baby's crib. Any of these items could cause your baby to suffocate.
- Remove mobiles when your baby starts to push to his or her hands and knees or when your baby turns 5 months old, whichever comes first.
- Do not place a crib near a window or drapes. Your baby could fall or become entangled in window blind and drape cords.
- Remove bibs and necklaces from your baby's neck before putting your baby in the crib.
- Do not hang toys by strings.
- Make sure sleepwear and sheets are flame retardant.
Gates placed at the top of stairs or in doorways are used to keep toddlers away from hazardous areas of the home. Gates are meant to be used for children between 6 months and 2 years of age.
Before you look for a gate, measure the doorway or top of the stairs so you buy a gate that is wide enough to block the space.
If you're borrowing a gate, don't accept an old accordion-type gate. They're not safe because of the diamond-shaped openings with wide Vs at the top. These can trap a baby's head and cause choking.
What to look for
- Check the label for an ASTM/JPMA certification (American Society for Testing and Materials, and Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association).
- For a gate at the top of stairs, be sure to get a hardware-mounted gate that attaches to the door frame without any openings to trap fingers or necks.
- Pressure-mounted and freestanding gates can be used in doorways between rooms or at the bottom of stairs. Keep in mind that they can fall over if a child pushes hard enough. Choose a gate with a straight top edge with either rigid bars or a tight mesh screen.
- There should be no more than 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) between the floor and the gate bottom to keep a child from slipping underneath.
- Rigid vertical slats or rods should be no more than 2-3/8 inches (6 centimeters) apart, so that the child's head cannot be trapped between the slats.
- Check for sharp edges and pieces that could cut or hurt a toddler's hands. If the gate is made from wood, check for splinters.
- Don't buy gates with openings that a child could use for climbing.
- The gate should be no less than three quarters of the child's height.
- Keep large toys and other objects away from the gate to prevent kids from using them to climb over.
- Gates that swing out should never be used at the top of stairways.
- If your child can open a gate or climb over it, the gate should be taken down.
Infant seats vs. car safety seats
Infant seats should not be confused with infant or child safety seats (car seats). Regular infant seats simply allow young babies to sit up. They're not designed to protect a baby in a car crash and should never be used to transport infants. Some child safety seats, however, can double as infant seats.
What to look for
- The base should be wider than the seat, and locking mechanisms should be secure. Push down on the unit to make sure it is sturdy.
- The base should have nonskid surfacing to prevent the seat from moving on a smooth surface.
- The safety belt should be secure and the fabric should be washable.
- If wire supporting devices snap on the back of the seat, make sure they are secure so that they do not pop out and cause the seat to collapse.
- Never place your baby in an infant seat on a table, counter, or other elevated surface from which your child could fall, or on the washing machine or any other vibrating surface (the vibrations could cause the seat to move and fall).
- Use the safety belt every time you place your baby in the seat.
- Don't place the seat on soft surfaces (such as beds or sofas) because it may tip over and the baby could suffocate.
Child Safety Seats (Car Seats)
More children are seriously injured or killed in auto accidents than in any other type of accident. Using a child safety seat is the best protection you can give a child when traveling by car.
Never substitute any type of infant seat for a child safety seat. Only child safety seats — properly installed in the back seat — are designed to protect a child from injury during a collision.
What to look for
- Choose a seat with a label that states it meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
- Accept a used seat with caution. Never accept a seat that's more than 6 years old or one that was in a crash (even if it looks OK, it could be structurally unsound). Avoid seats that are missing parts or are not labeled with the manufacture date and model number (you'll have no way to know about recalls). Also, check the seat for the manufacturer's recommended "expiration date." If you have any doubts about the seat's history, or if it is cracked or shows signs of wear and tear, don't use it.
- Be sure that the seat you choose fits your child — a smaller baby can slip out of a seat that's too large.
- Consider choosing a seat that's upholstered in fabric — it may be more comfortable for your child.
Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they're 2 years old or until they have reached the maximum weight and height limits recommended by the manufacturer.
When kids are ready to transition to a forward-facing seat, they should be harnessed in until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. When they have outgrown their forward-facing harnessed seat, they need to be placed in a booster seat. Kids should use a booster seat until the car's lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly, which is typically when they've reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years old.
For more information on proper installation of child safety seats and how to harness your child, read our article on auto safety. You also can call the Department of Transportation Auto Safety Hotline — (888) DASH-2-DOT — if you have questions.
These high-sided, enclosed play areas are popular because parents can put their baby in one knowing that their little one can't wander off. But playpens are no substitute for adult supervision — never leave a child unattended in a playpen.
What to look for
- Check the label for JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) certification, which means the playpen meets the safety standards of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
- The sides should be at least 20 inches (51 centimeters) high, measured from the floor of the playpen.
- If the playpen has mesh sides, the holes in the mesh should be no larger than ¼ inch (0.6 centimeter) to keep small fingers and small buttons on clothes from getting caught. The mesh should be securely attached and checked regularly for breaks and tears.
- If the playpen is wooden, the slat spaces should be no more than 2-3/8 inches (5.08 centimeters) in width.
- Look for padding on the tops of the rails to protect your baby from bumps.
- Look for a 1-inch firm mattress or pad at the bottom of the playpen.
- The locks that allow you to lower a side should be out of your baby's reach.
- Make sure the playpen has well-protected hinges and supports.
- Look for a playpen with top rails that automatically lock when lifted into the normal position.
- Check the floor of a used playpen for wear and tear.
- Never leave a baby in a mesh playpen with the side lowered. The baby could get trapped between the mesh side and the floorboard. Because of the danger of suffocation, only one floor pad (mattress) should be used.
- Don't use soft bedding or pillows in the playpen at any time.
- Never replace the mattress or padding in the playpen, as it might not fit the playpen well.
- Check all padded parts regularly for tears; cover or repair all tears.
- Show babysitters and other caregivers how to correctly set up the playpen and review the safety rules with them.
- Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back.
- The playpen should not be placed near windows. Cords on drapes and blinds can strangle the baby.
- Don't use a hand-me-down playpen with large diamond-shaped openings, as a baby's head may get trapped in the large holes forming the diamonds.
- Never tie or string toys from the sides of the playpen.
- Stop using the playpen when your child can easily climb out — when he or she reaches a height of 34 inches (86 centimeters) or weighs 30 pounds (14 kilograms).
Strollers come in a variety of sizes and styles. When you're searching for that perfect stroller that's light and portable, keep safety in mind too.
What to look for
- Check for a stroller that was made for your child's age, height, and weight. Newborns need to be able to lie almost flat in strollers, since they can't hold up their heads.
- Check the stroller for reliable restraining belts. The safest design is a 5-point harness: shoulder straps, a strap between the legs, and waist belts that connect together.
- If the stroller has a handrest (grab bar) at the front of the seat, make sure the opening between the grab bar and the seat can be closed when the stroller is used in the reclined position.
- The best brakes lock back wheels by engaging mechanisms in the wheels themselves rather than relying on pressure on the tires. Some strollers have brakes for one wheel, others have brakes for two wheels. Whatever brakes the stroller has, check for ones that are easy to use.
- The stroller should be free from parts that can pinch a child's fingers or pose a choking hazard.
- Check out the stroller for stability. The wheel base should be wide and the seat should be low in the frame. The stroller should resist tipping backward when you press lightly down on the handles.
- If there is a basket for carrying packages, it should be low on the back of the stroller and in front of the rear wheels.
- The leg openings should be small enough to prevent an infant from slipping through.
- You should be able to steer the stroller in a straight line when pushing with one hand.
- The handlebars should be at your waist level or slightly lower.
- Looking for a stroller designed to hold more than one child? Tandem models (where kids sit one behind the other) are generally easier to steer than the kind where kids sit side by side. They're also more stable and fold more compactly. If you choose one where kids will sit side by side, make sure it has only one footrest. If there are two separate foot rests, a child's foot could get stuck between them.
- Never leave your child child unattended in a stroller.
- Always use the safety harness when your child is in the stroller.
- Don't use a pillow or blanket as a mattress in a stroller. If a newborn has too much room in the stroller, place tightly rolled baby blankets around the baby to help keep him or her still.
- Always put on the brakes when the stroller is not moving.
- Never hang purses or diaper bags on the handles of a stroller. A baby could get tangled in the straps and be strangled, or the weight of the bags could tip the stroller over.
- To avoid trapping your baby's head, close the opening between the grab bar and the seat when using the stroller in the reclined position.
- Fold and unfold the stroller away from children to avoid pinching your child's fingers.
- If you buy a new stroller, register it with the manufacturer so they can contact you if there is a safety problem later.
All toys you select for your baby or toddler should meet safety standards. The tips below can help you find safe toys for your little one. At home, check them often for loose or broken parts.
What to look for
- Always follow all manufacturers' age recommendations. Some toys have small parts that can cause choking, so heed all warnings on a toy's packaging.
- Toys should be large enough — at least 1¼" (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼" (6 centimeters) in length — so that they can't be swallowed or lodged in the windpipe. A small-parts tester, or choke tube, can determine if a toy is too small. These tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child's windpipe. If an object fits inside the tube, then it's too small for a young child. If you can't find one of these products, a toilet paper roll can be used for the same purpose.
- Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in diameter or less because they can become lodged in the throat above the windpipe and cause trouble with breathing.
- Battery-operated toys should have battery cases that secure with screws so that kids cannot pry them open. Batteries and battery fluid pose serious risks, including choking, internal bleeding, and chemical burns.
- When checking a toy for safety, make sure it's unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn't have:
- sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose
- small ends that can extend into the back of a baby's mouth
- strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimeters)
- parts that could become pinch points for small fingers
- Most riding toys can be used once a child is able to sit up well while unsupported — but check the manufacturer's recommendations. Riding toys like rocking horses and wagons should come with safety harnesses or straps and be stable and secure enough to prevent tipping.
- Hand-me-down and homemade toys should be checked carefully. They may not have undergone testing for safety. Do not give your infant or toddler painted toys made before 1978, as they might have paint that contains lead.
- Stuffed animals and other toys that are sold or given away at carnivals and fairs are not required to meet safety standards. Check carnival toys carefully for loose parts and sharp edges before giving them to your child.
Check to see if a toy has been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on their recall page. You also can sign up to get news about the most up-to-date toy recalls.
- Never give balloons or latex or vinyl gloves to kids younger than 8 years old. A child who is blowing up or chewing on a balloon or gloves can choke by inhaling them. Inflated balloons pose a risk because they can pop without warning and be inhaled.
- Never give your baby or toddler vending machine toys, which often contain small parts.
- Keep older siblings' toys out of the reach of infants.
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