10 Surprising Infant Safety Hazards
You'll be shocked at what's really dangerous for children in your home. Don't skip our checklist of 10 safety hazards that could be deadly.
The Danger: Dishwashers give children easy access to sharp knives and forks. Detergent can irritate your child's skin and eyes and can burn the lining of her mouth and esophagus if swallowed. "It's extremely corrosive and dangerous," warns Parents advisor Ari Brown, MD, author of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year.
Safe Strategy: Point knives, forks, and other sharp items downward in the utensil basket. Don't fill the dispenser with detergent until you're ready to run the load, and wipe out any that's left over after each cycle. Always replace the cap on the bottle tightly, and store it in a locked cabinet. Keep the dishwasher closed and latched when it's not in use.
2) Latex Balloons
The Danger: Since 1973, more than 110 children have choked to death when chewing on or blowing up latex balloons. "Latex balloons are one of the worst things to choke on because they can conform to a child's throat and completely block breathing," explains Mariann Manno, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester.
Safe Strategy: Buy Mylar balloons instead of latex ones. Always supervise children playing with latex balloons, and never allow biting or chewing on balloons. Don't let children blow up latex balloons until 8 years old, and then watch closely to make sure they don't accidentally inhale one. When a balloon pops, immediately throw away the pieces.
3) Kitchen Ranges
The Danger: An improperly installed range can fall forward if your child leans on the front of it or climbs on the oven door. Toddlers have been critically injured when they tipped over a stove and were doused with a pot of scalding water.
Safe Strategy: Make sure free-standing or slide-in ranges are installed with anti-tip brackets that secure the rear legs to the floor. Manufacturers are required to provide these brackets on ranges made after 1991, but you can contact the company for the parts, or order them from an appliance-parts store. Keep the oven door closed when not using the oven, and never allow your child to lean on or climb on the range or oven door.
4) Soft Bedding
The Danger: Fluffy comforters and bumper pads may make a crib cozy, but soft bedding can mold around babies' faces and suffocate them. Although deaths from SIDS have dropped dramatically thanks to the widely publicized "Back to Sleep" campaign introduced in 1991, as many as 900 infants suffocate in soft bedding each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Safe Strategy: Place babies on their backs on a firm mattress covered with a tight-fitting mattress pad and sheet. Don't put pillows, comforters, thick bumper pads, or soft toys in the crib until they are a year old. Keep them warm with a lightweight blanket tucked tightly around the mattress, or dress them in a blanket sleeper.
5) Hand-Me-Down Baby Gear
The Danger: Used toys and baby equipment may have broken or missing parts, or may not meet current safety regulations. Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, author of The Baby Rules: The Insider's Guide to Raising Your Parents, unknowingly placed her 12-month-old in a high chair without correct safety straps. "She started to slip down, and her head and neck became wedged between the tray and the high chair. Fortunately we caught her in time, or she could have been seriously injured."
Safe Strategy: Inspect secondhand items for damaged or missing parts. Make sure strings, straps, and cords are shorter than 7 inches. Visit cpsc.gov to confirm the item meets current safety standards. Don't let children play with decades-old metal or painted toys, which may contain poisonous lead.
6) Bath Seats and Rings
The Danger: Bath seats and rings help a baby sit up in the tub, but they can be a drowning hazard if you leave babies alone for even a few seconds. The suction cups on the bottom can suddenly release and allow them to tip over or slide between the legs and become trapped underwater. Between 1983 and 2003, 106 babies drowned because they were left unattended in bath rings or seats, according to the CPSC.
Safe Strategy: Always stay within arm's reach when your baby's in the tub, and make sure other caregivers do the same. "Bath seats and rings are not safety devices," Dr. Manno says.
7) Bath and Baby Oils
The Danger: Some bath and baby oils contain liquid hydrocarbons, which can cause a serious pneumonia-like condition, irreversible lung damage, and even death if a child aspirates the substance into their lungs.
Safe Strategy: The CPSC requires child-resistant packaging for products containing hydrocarbons. Read labels and store all bath and baby oils out of your child's reach, even if they're in child-resistant packaging. (The same goes for other household and cosmetic products containing liquid hydrocarbons or mineral oil, such as some makeup removers, massage oils, and nail-polish dryers.) "Child-resistant caps don't always keep kids out -- they just slow them down," says Karen Sheehan, MD, an emergency-room physician at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago.
8) The Family Dog
The Danger: About 100,000 children under age 10 are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year for dog-bite-related injuries, according to the CDCP. The majority of attacks happen in familiar places by a dog that belongs to the victim's family or friend. Pet food and pet toys with small parts can also be choking hazards.
Safe Strategy: Never leave children alone with a dog. Having dogs spayed or neutered can reduce aggressive tendencies. Teach children to be gentle with dogs and to never tease, corner, or disturb a dog that's eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies. Until children are 3, don't buy pet toys with small parts that can be pulled off. Remove hard dog food when pets are done eating.
9) Power Windows
The Danger: Car windows cause hundreds of children to lose their fingers or crush limbs each year. They've been associated with at least 28 deaths, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit child-advocacy group. If children put their head or hand out the window, then accidentally lean on the switch, the window can close on them.
Safe Strategy: Use the lock function so children can't operate power windows. "Before you raise a window from the driver's seat, do a head- and finger-check first," says Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars. Never leave your child alone in a vehicle.
10) Pocketbooks and Purses
The Danger: Any cosmetic bag, backpack, or suitcase that someone brings into your home may contain items that could poison, choke, or injure children, such as medications, change, hard candy, pen caps, safety pins, nail scissors, and matches. "It only takes a second for a small child to get into something that's new and exciting while the adults are busy talking," says Bridget Clementi, injury-prevention manager at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.
Safe Strategy: When friends and relatives visit, place purses and luggage in a closet or room where your child can't get to them.
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