Here’s how to make your home safe for your little one.
Expert Sources: Ronald Potocki, DO; Holly Choi
As a parent, you probably already know this, but safeguarding your home should be at the top of your to-do list. Of course, your supervision is a huge component, but no parent or caregiver can have eyes on a baby at all times. Ask any parent of a curious crawler or fearless toddler, and they’ll tell you that all it takes is turning your head for a few seconds for little ones to be into something they shouldn’t be.
Once baby shows signs of becoming more mobile, scooting and crawling around at about 6 to 12 months, families will need to go from “babyproofing” to “childproofing.” The timing of this safety transition will be different for each family. Some may prefer to implement all safety measures in one swoop, while others may make the changes throughout the first year as their tot grows.
“At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer so long as the proper proofing happens,” says Ronald Potocki, DO, a pediatric hospitalist at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. “What I would say is don’t wait. The process tends to take longer than what you would expect, so start early.”
Our babyproofing checklist will help guide you to make your home safe for your new addition, give you our baby safety must-haves, and help give you some peace of mind.
First, consider fire safety. “One of the most important things parents can do before bringing home their baby is to ensure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are installed properly and working,” Dr. Potocki says.
It is also important to have a working fire extinguisher, fireplace screens (if applicable), and stove knob covers to keep your home safe and your toddler protected from dangerous situations.
Safe sleep practices have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which took the lives of nearly 1,400 young children under the age of 1 in 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) include always placing your baby on their back to sleep, using a flat, firm mattress with a tightly fitted crib sheet, and making sure there is nothing else in the crib with your child. “All stuffed animals, toys, extra blankets, and comforters should be kept out,” Dr. Potocki says.
He says it is also important to keep the crib or bassinet away from any windows, cords, heaters, and decorations, and to prepare the nursery well ahead of time. “To prevent any exposure to harmful fumes, the painting of the nursery should be done at least two months prior to the arrival of a newborn baby.”
To prevent falls and the injuries that come with them, all staircases should be fitted at both the top and the bottom with child-proof safety gates. Holly Choi, member of the International Association of Child Safety and Bugaboo Safety Month expert, explains that there are two main types of stair gates currently on the market: hardware-mounted gates that are screwed in and pressure-mounted gates that are tightened into place. She tells parents to always use hardware-mount gates at the top of the stairs and, ideally, at the bottom, too.
“Take care not to use gates designed for pets in place of baby gates, as they aren’t made nor tested to the same standards,” she says. “Additionally, baby gates should never be modified for pets, as they could then no longer be safe for the child.”
Be wary of gates that claim to be safe for both babies and pets, as few actually are. The spindles might not be narrow enough, pass-throughs for pets might be accessed by the child, and a child could use the horizontal bars that are often on pet gates to climb, all of which could result in an injury. Hoi tells parents to always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
“If a gate does not specifically say it’s for use with children, don’t use it for children,” she says.
Then think about the surfaces your child will be playing on. Hardwood floors and loose mats can be extremely slippery for young movers, so you should consider placing non-skid mats or rugs to prevent falls, Dr. Potocki says.
Baby walkers with wheels are a major source of injuries (nearly 231,000 between 1990 and 2014), most of which are caused by falls down the stairs or out of the walker. The AAP has called for a ban on baby walkers with wheels, encouraging families to throw them away. In addition to falls, they can give children better access to dangerous items stored higher up. Instead, invest in a playard or super yard which, under the right circumstances, is a baby-safe, contained place for your cutie to practice crawling or walking.
Secure all televisions, dressers, changing tables, and other similar furniture pieces to your walls to prevent tip-over injuries. “It doesn’t matter how tall your furniture is, how heavy it is, how wide it is, how much you paid for it,” Kimberly Amato, creator of Meghan’s Hope and a founding member and vice chair of Parents Against Tipovers told us in our recent furniture safety feature. “None of that matters because what causes furniture to tip over is physics.” An estimated 560,200 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for injuries related to furniture or television tip-overs between 1990 and 2019, and 472 children died from tip-overs between 2000 and 2020.
Prevent tip-overs by using safety straps or L-brackets to anchor your furniture, and then do your best to keep items that might interest your child (toys, remotes, etc.) off furniture, so they don’t try to climb to access them. “You should also consider protecting sharp corners such as a coffee table with soft fitted bumper pads or corner protectors to prevent any unwanted head injuries,” Potocki says.
Something you may overlook is window cords. Many window coverings are now cordless, but if that is not the case in your home, it is important to invest in cord wrappers. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of nine children die each year from strangulation by window covering cords. And while you’re investing in safety products, grab some window locks so your kiddo isn’t able to open the window, or so that you or a caregiver can’t open a window wide enough for your little one to fall out of.
All open outlets should be blocked with a safety plug, and box-style outlet covers can be a great solution to keep curious hands away from plugs and outlets, Choi says.
Electrical cords (don’t forget the one on your baby monitor!) should be wrapped and placed out of reach. “In modern society, this can be a challenge with all our technological needs, so I recommend utilizing existing furniture to help tape cords behind and hide from view,” Dr. Potocki says.
Store tools like irons and hair dryers in a safe place out of your little one’s reach, and unplug any appliances like coffee makers when not in use. Also, do your best to keep tall lamps (which are prone to wobbling) out of the rooms where children spend most of their time. And a charger cover will protect against electric shocks or burns should your child try to put the metal end of a plugged-in charger in their mouth.
Parents and caretakers must make sure that medications, including marijuana products, are locked and stored away. Be especially mindful of purses and other bags (both your own and those of visitors) which may contain medications or other dangerous items. “These medications tend to look like candy pieces and appear appetizing to infants and toddlers,” Dr. Potocki says.
That being said, what you should have easily accessible (though still out of reach of children) is a first aid kit for bumps and bruises.
Dr. Potocki believes toxin exposures and accidental ingestions are not talked about enough. He stresses to all families the importance of cabinet door locks for lower cabinets and drawers to protect children from accessing cleaning supplies and other harmful substances. And sorry plant parents, but toxic plants should be removed from the home or at least set up high. “These accidental ingestions are seen all too frequently in pediatric emergency departments and are almost always preventable,” Dr. Potocki warns.
Babies can drown in as little as 1 to 2 inches of water, which is why the AAP says parents should never leave their child alone in or near the bath even for a moment. They encourage families to use “touch supervision,” meaning everything you might need during bathtime (towels, soap, etc.) is within arm’s reach, so you can always have one hand on your baby.
It is also recommended to set your hot water heater to a maximum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When your baby transitions from their first bath to baths in a tub, you want to keep the water at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you were to accidentally use water that is too warm, having a cap on the heater will keep the water from reaching a scalding temperature.
See additional recommendations for pool and swim safety.
Doors and Hinges
Be mindful of anything that could pinch little fingers. Use cabinet locks, door latches, drawer locks, and toilet locks (for toxin and water safety reasons too!), and either use a door stop to hold doors open or keep doors shut. And we know you’d like to fully store toy clutter away, but bins without covers also remove the possibility of squished hands.
Be on the lookout for toys and household items that could be a choking hazard for children. Toys should have a label indicating if the toy itself or its pieces are too small for children or children under a certain age. Coins, LEGOs, marbles, buttons, pen caps, small bouncy balls, doll accessories, batteries (especially lithium button batteries!), and more can all be culprits. When in doubt, use the toilet paper roll test. If the item can fit through a toilet paper roll, it’s a choking hazard. Food choking hazards include hot dogs, whole grapes, popcorn, chewy candies, large chunks of cheese, nuts, and more.
For any health or injury situation that doesn’t warrant a 911 call, keep emergency information such as your pediatrician’s phone number, the address of the nearest emergency room, your child’s medical information, and the number for poison control nearby (maybe on the fridge or by the phone) for yourself and other caretakers.
What about when you go to visit family or on vacation? “This is a question I receive very commonly in my practice,” Dr. Potocki says. “Of course, we all would love to be reassured knowing that every residence or place our children visit will be properly childproofed, however, this is often not the case.”
When it comes to visiting family, he recommends having at least one space where the child can safely play. Think of this as a “yes space,” Choi says, or a child-safe space where your little one is going to be safe and anything they come into contact with is a “yes” from their caregiver (as opposed to a “No! Don’t touch that! Careful!”).
For vacation rentals, find out if there are rooms that are already childproofed. “If they are not, I recommend parents bring some safety equipment with them on vacation such as a playpen and electrical outlet covers to help prevent injury and to allow everyone to enjoy their vacation,” Dr. Potocki says.
If you think you’ve missed some hazards, Dr. Potocki suggests getting a “grounds eye view” to more clearly see what your child will see. “This can be accomplished by laying on the floor and taking in what will be your child’s future playground.”
Choi also encourages parents to think about furniture through the eyes of a toddler. “Does a bookcase look like an inviting ladder to climb?” she asks. “Could they create a staircase for themselves using dresser drawers or other furniture and objects in the room?”
If you’re worried your babyproofing isn’t up to snuff, you can always hire a certified childproofer who can assess your home and/or install gates, locks, and anchors. When in doubt while buying safety products, go with trusted name brands, such as HangMan and Safety 1st, even if they are more expensive. You can also use the CPSC as a resource to search for which baby gear and home furniture have been reported unsafe.
Dr. Potocki says home safety measures have been proven to be successful in preventing infant and toddler injuries and deaths. “In taking these aggressive measures up front, we can rest assured later,” he says. “After all, it only takes one serious event to have forever regret.”
For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org for the AAP’s full guidance regarding at-home safety.