Infant safety depends on acquiring knowledge, recognising potential hazards and planning ahead. Our expert, Registered General Nurse and mother Linda Lowen offers some sound advice.
Linda Lowen is a registered general nurse with 22 years experience and has worked in accident and emergency departments for 15 years. She is the mother of two active boys and has written this page for ninemonths.com.au.
Babies and children face risks every day as they explore their constantly changing environment. They are vulnerable and unaware of the dangers surrounding them.
Every year thousands of young children are injured, requiring hospitalisation. For some it may be an overnight stay for observation. But for others, treatment may be required for more serious injuries including broken bones, burns or head trauma.
Some unfortunate children do not leave hospital.
Statistics show that injury is the leading cause of death for children under 15 years. Child safety depends on acquiring knowledge, recognising potential hazards and planning ahead. If your knowledge of first aid is limited or rusty, it is a good idea to attend a course before your baby arrives in your home.
The risk of injury increases in the following circumstances:
- Change of environment including outings, visiting, moving house
- Unsafe baby equipment falling short of safety standards
- Periods of excitement causing distraction
- Either parent is tired, stressed or unwell
- Baby/child is tired or unwell
Stay Alert and On Guard
Constant supervision is primarily the most important key to safety. (Yes, parents do need to develop eyes in the back of their heads!)
Babies and children develop rapidly from birth to age five when they are at their greatest risk of harm. The most common place for injury is in the home.
Here are a few tips on how to improve the safety within your home, room by room.
- Making your kitchen a safe place for both you and your children can begin with some easy steps as follows:
- Keep knives and sharp tools out of reach.
- Keep all matches and lighters out of reach.
- Keep plastic bags out of reach.
- Keep all detergents, bleaches, dishwashing detergents and household cleaners locked up or out of reach. If these items are stored at a child’s level, be sure to fit a safety lock.
- Keep hand towels or paper kitchen roll handy to mop up spills immediately.
- Always ensure the handles of cooking pots and pans are turned inward.
- Ensure your rubbish bin has a lid.
- Replace tablecloths with place mats.
- Never overload electrical sockets.
- If you have a dishwasher, a safety lock is strongly advised.
NEVER PLACE A BABY ON A KITCHEN BENCH – NOT EVEN FOR A SECOND.
Babies can fracture skulls.
Newborn babies are used to the constancy and darkness of the womb. When preparing a nursery, keep this in mind by ensuring there is a blind/curtain that can shut light out.
When buying or borrowing nursery equipment, ensure it meets safety standards.
Some parents like to keep their baby as close as possible. Some parents prefer to have their baby sleep in a separate cot or bassinet in their room. (You may regret this – babies are noisy sleepers!)
Always consider the temperature in your baby’s sleeping environment and make sure there is plenty of air space around the baby’s face when sleeping.
Avoid placing bassinets and cots near heating.
Never use hot water bottles or electric blankets for babies.
Keep the bassinet/cot free of clutter.
Avoid placing bassinets and cots under windows where blinds or curtains may be dangling.
Ensure that windows cannot open more than 10 cm. If they can, install bars or safety locks.
When putting your baby to sleep, always remove the feeding big.
Always remove all plastic covering from mattresses and dispose of it immediately. Plastic is dangerous.
There are available changing tables with a curved surface that can reduce the likelihood of rolling.
NEVER LEAVE YOUR BABY UNATTENDED ON A CHANGING TABLE.
Avoid placing your baby on a bed. A common scenario is a baby falling off a bed and suffering serious injury. Not all bedrooms have carpeted floors and even carpet offers little protection against injury.
If you do not have a changing table, use the floor.
A Growing Toddler
Parents constantly need to assess changing needs.
Take another look at your child’s environment now and what’s within reach.
As passive as they may seem, toys often pose dangers.
Choose toys carefully. Young children always put objects in their mouth.
Watch for inappropriate sized toys that could be swallowed, loose parts, sharp components and loose cords that can get tangled around a baby’s neck.
Be aware of older siblings leaving toys lying around.
These hazards may seem difficult to manage. Perhaps consider a universal toy box with a safety catch as a means of storage.
Your Baby’s Bedroom
Perhaps the single most useful piece of safety equipment is a childproof gate or barrier. Even before your baby can crawl, gate can be used to separate pets, siblings and your baby.
Once your baby is able to move about, gates can protect your baby from danger spots and stairways.
It may be advisable to choose a gate that can be moved to different doorways. If you are buying a new one, make sure you are able to open it with one hand. When fitting it to a new location, be sure it is secure.
Use child resistant power point plugs.
Rugs & Floor Coverings
Avoid slippery rugs and floor coverings, particularly on wooden floors.
Protect your family with smoke alarms. To be effective you should have at least one smoke alarm on each floor of your home.
Install fireguards should be used in front of all fires.
If you have low-level areas of glass, attach stickers or motifs at child level to avoid your child walking into it. This is a common occurrence.
Falls account for a large percentage of admissions to emergency departments. Most fall-related injuries are predictable and therefore preventable. Falls occur quickly and most commonly occur in the safety of a home.
Baby walkers may be a source of entertainment but they also provide the freedom that may cause an accident.
Walkers enable baby to roam in danger such as kitchens or behind a person carrying a hot drink. They also provide extra height for the child risking a collision with a bench top corner or enable the child to access higher levels. There are many documented cases of babies falling down stairs or off decks when mobile in a walker.
Keep all poisons out of reach.
Ensure poisons are labelled true to content and have child-proof lids.
Keep them high out of reach and locked away.
Store alcohol and cigarettes well out of reach.
Stop people from smoking in your home especially around the baby.
Be aware of poisonous flowers and shrubs. A large number of common variety plants are toxic.
Have at hand a first aid kit, emergency help numbers including the poison centre help desk.
Watch out for well-meaning siblings feeding your baby bits of food and/or small toys. Although siblings may seem grown-up compared to a new baby, remember that siblings are only little themselves. Try to involve older siblings in the baby’s activities and routines by showing them productive ways to help or play with the newcomer.
Introduce your baby to family pets with care. Both dogs and cats can feel supplanted with the arrival of a new baby. Some dogs may require firm handling. If your dog was the centre of your home before your baby’s arrival, try to include your dog on simple outings or walks to avoid rivalry.
It may be advisable to place a cat net over your baby’s pram or sleeping area to deter your cat from sleeping on top of your baby.
All pets should be regularly wormed.
A choking baby is often completely silent and struggling to breathe. It may try to cry. If you haven’t been watching, you may have only a few moments to act.
If you are able to, remove the object. If you cannot see it or only a small bit of the object is visible, do not poke around as you may only push it further back.
Lay your baby face down along your forearm, supporting its head and shoulders on your hand. Keep its head low and give five sharp slaps on its back. This may dislodge the object from the throat or windpipe.
If this is unsuccessful, turn your baby over and kneel on the floor, laying your baby face up across your knee with the head lower than the body. Place two fingers on the lower breastbone and give five sharp downward thrusts.
Look in the mouth and if you can see the object, hook it out. If this is unsuccessful call an ambulance. While you are waiting, repeat the process of five back slaps, followed by five chest thrusts, then checking the mouth.
If your baby loses consciousness, you may have to apply artificial respiration.(If you are not confident in doing this, ask your health visitor about first aid courses in your area).
Around the House
For some couples switching from parent role to the role of lovers can be difficult. They feel that sexual urges may not be appropriate and do not equate with the role of responsible parent. As parents it is equally as important to have a fulfilling sex life. Sex and intimacy is not a mere act of self-indulgence, it is a significant and meaningful component in any successful relationship. With another little person in the home, be prepared for a few more unexpected interruptions, but be sure not to neglect your own needs of intimacy. This is what a family is all about.
Drowning is the most common cause of infant death. There are legal requirements for fencing pools with guidelines for safe fence and gate measurements. Check laws and regulations and adhere to these. Beware of neighbourhood pools, spas, jacuzzi and other water features. Toddlers can down in just centimetres of water.
Out & About
The key to safety when out and about is preparation and supervision. Think ahead, anticipate situations and take necessary equipment.
Avoid long journeys and give baby regular sleep times.
Buckle Them In
You are legally required to have an approved restraint for your baby in the car, even for the trip home from the hospital. They are essential from day one. A capsule is a most common option and comes with a bolt to anchor it into your car. Check whether your car has the necessary hole (this is compulsory in recent cars). It is found on the ledge behind the back seat. It is possible to hire capsules from most local councils.
A safety harness for walking may be useful. If you invest in an adjustable harness, it should last several years. Most harnesses have a set of short side reigns and D-loops.
Be aware of your baby’s temperature and the changes in temperatures. Be ready to adjust clothing every time you enter or leave buildings and vehicles. Sometimes interiors can be overly heated. It is simple to check your baby’s temperature by feeling the back of her neck. The skin should be dry and slightly warmer than your hand.
Sun can be extremely dangerous to a delicate, newborn or infant skin.
Always have a floppy hat available to protect your baby’s head and face from the intensity of the sun. There are baby products available that contain sunscreen. Most paediatricians recommend a sun protection factor of 25 or more on all exposed skin. Be sure to apply to your baby’s hands, feet and ears.
Never Leave Your Baby Unattended
There is never any reason to leave your baby unattended. If your pushchair or buggy is too large, remove your baby and take him/her with you. When you go to the toilet, use the wheelchair cubicle. If there isn’t one, pull your baby’s pushchair in afterwards so your baby is facing you.
Belt your child into the supermarket trolley or use their car seat if not straps are available. Speak to the manager at the supermarket and suggest safety features.
Have a list of important numbers near the telephone and stored within your mobile phone memory. Include:
- Poisons Information Centre
- Fire Department
- Nearest Children’s Hospital
- Family Doctor