Your baby’s well-being is more important than anything. In fact, you’re biologically built to feel anxious about your child’s safety and respond strongly when he’s threatened. (Hello, mama bear!)
While it’s impossible to foresee and defuse every potential danger, it certainly helps to be aware of risks and take precautions where you can. Various areas of baby’s life present different challenges—let’s take a look.
In the kitchen
For at least the first four months of baby’s life, breast milk or formula should be his only sustenance. These milky beverages are perfectly balanced to support baby’s health; diluting them or introducing any other foods could pose a risk (unless baby’s pediatrician gives special instructions otherwise). Bottles should be purchased new, boiled before use and washed between uses to eliminate bacteria. Buy glass or BPA-free plastic, and be careful about heating. Microwaves can leave hot spots that will burn baby’s mouth.
When baby does begin solid foods (at his pediatrician’s recommendation, usually between 4 and 6 months), your doctor will probably suggest introducing one new food at a time, so that any adverse reaction will be easier to trace. First foods should be spooned as a smooth puree, whether you make them at home or buy them. As time goes on, baby can handle more complex flavors and textures, but certain foods are off-limits for at least the first year, including nuts, shellfish, eggs, honey and others.
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Finger foods come into play as baby works on his pincer grasp. Cut foods into little pieces that are small enough to swallow whole if baby neglects to adequately mash them. Choose mild foods that will break down easily (like Cheerios, not carrots). And just in case, be familiar with the Heimlich maneuver for infants.*
In the nursery
You’ve created a beautifully decorated space for baby—now don’t forget to keep it safe, too! While baby’s environment doesn’t have to be 100 percent sterile (he does need to build up his immune system, after all), it’s wise to nullify chemical exposure wherever you can. Clean with natural products that are baby-safe, and choose paints and furniture finishes that are nontoxic. You’ll soon find babies are proponents of tasting their surroundings. Change your home’s air filters regularly and dust weekly. Before use, baby clothes, blankets and bedding should be washed with baby-safe detergent. Toys should also be cleaned periodically and thoroughly disinfected if you bought them used.
The crib is of special concern, as baby will be spending a lot of time there. When you buy your crib, buy new. While an antique could be aesthetically tempting, it may not meet modern safety requirements. Ensure it’s assembled correctly, with all hardware securely fastened. If you choose bedding that comes with a quilt, use that quilt as a wall decoration or throw it over your rocker; it’s not safe for use in the crib. Crib bumpers are equal parts cute and dangerous. Ditch them. They’re not worth the suffocation risk.
To reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), rid the crib of any loose, fluffy bedding and stuffed animals. Instead, employ a snug swaddle or sleep bag. Use a new, firm mattress. Put baby down to sleep only in his crib or bassinet, not a swing or car seat. Dress baby in temperature-appropriate clothing, use a pacifier at bedtime if baby will take it, and run a ceiling fan. All of these tactics have been shown to lower SIDS rates. In addition, use a monitor to keep tabs on your babe. Video or motion-detecting monitors can provide extra peace of mind, although they’re not absolutely necessary.
Babyproof your home, especially as baby becomes mobile, with corner pads, outlet covers, cabinet latches and furniture anchors. Be on the lookout for any dangling strings or cords that could present a strangulation hazard. Even baby’s mobile could be dangerous if it’s close enough for baby to grab.
In the bathroom
Cabinet latches and toilet locks could be necessary here, but not in baby’s early months. Right now, your biggest concern in the bathroom is bathing. Whether you use an infant tub or fill your own tub with a shallow amount of water, it’s important that you maintain a constant presence. It takes very little time and very little water for an infant to drown. Before bathing baby, test the water against your wrist; if the temperature feels comfortable, it’s safe for baby.
Showering with baby is possible but not recommended. A soapy newborn is extremely slippery!
In the car
Baby must be buckled into a car seat—either an infant bucket seat or a convertible seat—for any car trip, even if it’s just a ride down the street. Your car seat should have been installed before baby left the hospital, and hopefully it was secured correctly. However, if you’re unsure, contact a car seat installation specialist at a nearby fire station, and make an appointment.
Like cribs and mattresses, car seats are best purchased new. Why not buy used? Denise Fields, co-author of Baby Bargains, explains, “If it has been in an accident, it is dangerous. Sitting in a hot car, car seat parts (buckles, straps) can wear out over time. Experts generally say you shouldn’t use a seat that is over 5 to 7 years of age. Standards also change, so it is better to get a new one.” Car seat safety is government regulated, so any new seat will meet at least the minimum safety requirements. Look for a five-point harness (rather than 3-point) and side-impact protection.
Sometimes, accidents do happen. If you are in a crash, replace baby’s car seat with a new one before you resume the road.
Out of doors
Enjoy some fresh air with your baby, especially when the temperature is comfortable, but watch out for harmful ultraviolet rays. Baby bodies aren’t ready for the chemicals found in sunscreen (at least not at first and not in large quantities), according to FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, MD. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” she advises, “and to avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when ultra- violet rays are most intense.”
When you do head out, dress baby for the climate. Warm layers are crucial dur- ing the winter but potentially dangerous during summer weather. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends dressing infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats to prevent sunburn. Stay in the shade as much as possible.
Fussiness, redness, excessive crying or a decrease in wet diapers could mean baby is overheated or dehydrated. Bring baby indoors and provide hydration through breastmilk or formula.
If you can’t avoid prolonged sun exposure, check with your pediatrician. She may give you the go-ahead to use a small amount of mild sunscreen.