The responsibilities of parenting may daunt and overwhelm first-time parents. Taking proper safety precautions can provide your child with a basis for healthy development and a safe environment.
Becoming a parent is a daunting prospect at times, and for first-time parents, the responsibility may seem overwhelming. Questions like “Will I be a good parent?” and “How can I keep my baby safe?” are completely normal, and with our guidelines you can help answer the second question while you find your feet and figure out the answer to the first.
Car Seat Safety
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) literature states that although many parents think they are installing and using car seats and safety belts to protect their children, check-ups continually show that four out of five parents unintentionally make mistakes that could result in their child being injured or killed in a crash.
Highway deaths are the number one killer of children in America, and common mistakes include buying the wrong car seat for your vehicle, not correctly installing the car seat, failing to use a booster seat, not having the seat or harness strap tight enough, and failing to use a locking or harness retainer clip.
Car seats must be in the rear seat, never the front seat, and must be rear-facing for infants less than a year old and who weigh less than 20 pounds. The NTSB recommends that children be placed in child safety seats until the age of four, and then in booster seats from ages four to eight. Never buy a used car safety seat unless you are sure it has never been in a crash and it has all the correct parts—including the instructions. Car seats older than six years should be discarded.
Because there are hundreds of child safety seats and seat belt configurations, there are also many ways to install car seats—and making sure you are doing it properly is of the utmost importance. For help in correctly installing a car seat, contact the NTSB at www.seatcheck.org where you can locate your nearest check site.
Decorating the Nursery
Ensuring your child’s nursery is a safe haven can seem a challenging prospect as danger seems to lurk around every corner. The following guidelines can help safeguard your child:
- Cribs: Ensure that your crib meets with US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards. If you have been given a crib or are buying a used crib, make sure it was not manufactured before 1988 and check to see that it has the following: a firm, tight-fitting mattress; no loose, missing, or broken hardware or slats; no more than 3/8 inches between the slats; no corner posts over 1/16 inches high; no cut-out designs on the headboard or footboard.
Other CPSC crib safety tips include not putting pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, pillow-like bumper pads, or pillow-like stuffed toys in the crib. Parents may consider using a sleeper instead of a blanket, but if you do use a blanket, place your baby with feet to the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress, covering the baby only as high as her chest.
- Crib toys and pacifiers: Avoid hanging toys or pacifiers across the crib or on the crib corner posts and never use strings to hang objects such as mobiles or diaper bags, as these can cause strangulation.
- Bassinets and cradles: Make sure these have a sturdy bottom and a wide base for stability, as well as a smooth surface with no protruding staples or other hardware that could cause injury. The legs should have strong locks to prevent folding while in use. As with cribs above, make sure the mattress is firm and fits snugly.
- Changing tables: Check the table for safety straps to prevent falls and look for a shelf or drawers that are easily accessible so you don’t have to leave your baby unattended to grab a diaper during changing.
Baby Proofing the Rest of Your Home
Most parents assume they will have plenty of time before having to tackle this task, but in reality your child may become mobile long before you are ready for him to be. Authors Lisa Carter and Lori Marques of the book Child Safety Made Easy and website Paranoid Sisters, suggest you “get on your hands and knees and crawl around your house” looking for potential hazards that need to be corrected.
The National Safe Kids Campaign says that “a few easy, relatively inexpensive steps—locking household cleaning materials in a cabinet out of reach, installing carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, blocking stairways with baby gates—can greatly reduce your child’s risk of injury in the home.”
Newborn babies need to be kept warm. Babies can make heat for their bodies, but unlike adults they are not very good at conserving warmth, and the heat is lost as fast as it is made. Dr. Miriam Stoppard says in her book, Conception, Pregnancy & Birth, that whether your baby has her own room or shares yours at first, the room needs to be kept warm and you should try to maintain a constant temperature of around 16-20ºC (60-70º) and, if possible, install a thermostatically controlled heater. It is important that you never put your baby to sleep next to a radiator or fire, or in direct sunlight.
Sleeping with Baby
There are differing views on having Baby in bed with you and your partner, although this practice is becoming increasingly common with parents today. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that shared sleeping surfaces in the United States are unsafe for infants, and that cribs are the safest places for babies to sleep.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in the UK, on the other hand, says that bed-sharing facilitates bonding and successful breastfeeding but parents should be aware of certain instances when bed-sharing is not advised. These instances include: if either parent has epilepsy or diabetes with unstable blood sugars or an infection, and/or if either parent smokes, has had alcohol, or takes recreational drugs. As long as parents are aware of these issues and take care when bed-sharing, the RCM believes that the family bed is safe. Parents should speak to their child’s physician for more information on bed-sharing.
Back to Sleep for Baby
In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that infants be put to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Since that time, the annual SIDS rate has decreased by more than 50 percent. Put your baby to sleep on his back at the foot of the crib from birth. The AAP says once babies are able to roll over without assistance, they can safely remain sleeping in that position.
Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury and death in children, and little ones can drown in just an inch or two of water. It’s crucial that young children are never left alone in or near water.
Set the thermostat of your hot water heater to no higher than 120ºF to reduce the chance of scalds or burns. It takes just three seconds for a child to sustain a third-degree burn from water at 140ºF.
If you have a swimming pool or spa, make sure it is surrounded with a fence at least five feet high with a self-closing, self-latching gate, or check that it is completely covered with a safety cover. Keep in mind that it is important that your child learn to swim when he or she is old enough; both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safe Kids Campaign says children are generally not developmentally ready for organized swim lessons until age four.
Fevers and Illness
Fevers occur when the body’s normal temperature range of 96.8ºF rises, and fevers are common in babies. If your baby is younger than three months and has a fever higher than 99.5ºF (37.5ºC), seek medical advice. Likewise if your baby is aged between three and six months and her fever does not drop after one dose of infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen (whichever your child’s pediatrician recommends), or if the fever lasts longer than 24-28 hours and there is no obvious cause such as a cough or cold. When in doubt call the pediatrician. If you are unsure if your baby’s symptoms are serious, it is better to call the doctor.
Childcare Provider Knowledge
While many parents know not to put a baby to sleep on his stomach, your baby’s caretaker may not. Few states have childcare licensing regulations that mandate placing infants on their backs to sleep, and studies show that the risk of SIDS increases for babies that sleep on their backs at home but are placed to sleep on their stomachs in childcare. It is always better for you to remind your child’s caretakers of important points, including any allergies a baby has, or have a checklist available for them to consult if they are unsure of what to do.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
An emergency is frightening when it happens to your child, but knowing what to do when it counts can make all the difference in the world. Take a short first aid course where you learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), the Heimlich maneuver in the case of choking, how to counteract the effects of a burn, and what to do if your child swallows something poisonous.
Many of these common parenting mistakes can be easily corrected when parents take proper precautions. Be a wise parent; following this list of helpful tips can provide your child with a basis for healthy development and a safe environment.