Child Equipment Safety for Your Baby, Toddler, & Preschooler
By Kimberly Blaker
Regardless of your approach to parenting, one thing all parents can agree on is child safety. It seems like new recalls on child equipment, and news of another young child injured by equipment occur each week.
Parenting can be stressful enough without having to worry about the equipment you use every day with your baby, toddler, or preschooler. To alleviate stress and ensure your child is safe and secure, keep the following in mind when buying and using child equipment.
One situation parents worry about is driving with their baby or child on board. There's a good reason for this. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car accidents are one of the leading causes of death for young children. As the NHTSA points out, car seats offer your child the best protection in the event of an accident. So it's essential you have the right equipment and use it correctly.
Avoid buying second hand if possible because a used car seat may not be within its expiration date, and you can't be sure it hasn't been in an accident. Both of these factors are critical to your child's safety in the event of a crash.
Also, always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation as well as the height and weight limits.
The following are the four main types of car seats and how to use them.
Rear-facing – Babies and toddlers should face the rear as long as possible until they outgrow the height or weight limits specified on the car seat.
Forward Facing - Once children outgrow a rear-facing seat, they should stay in a forward-facing seat until they exceed the height or weight limit stated on it.
Booster - Older children who can use a seat belt, but need to sit higher for the seatbelt to fit correctly should use a booster car seat.
Seat belt - Once kids are tall enough to sit on the seat with the seat belt in a safe position, a car seat is no longer required.
In any of these seats, check that the clips or seat belt are in the right place every time. Clips should be clasped at the armpit level. Seatbelts should lie across your child's lap with the top across the chest and shoulder (not across the neck or face).
If you're unsure whether your seat is correctly installed or need help, take it to a fire station or car seat event to check for correct installation.
As an extra safety measure, add a tag or sticker with important information about your child and contact information in case of an accident.
Babies and toddlers spend at least half their day sleeping, often in a crib. So crib safety is vital. Adhere to the following to keep your child safe.
Don't use a crib with drop-down sides. These were banned as of June 2011 for safety reasons. So if buying a previously used crib, check for this feature if you're not sure when it was made. When buying second hand, also make sure there are no missing parts or issues with the paint, splintering, or loose connections.
When your child is in their crib, follow age-based recommendations to avoid SIDS. Babies should be placed on their backs, and mattresses should be flat and firm with a tight-fitting sheet. There should be nothing loose in the crib, such as a blanket, pillow, or stuffed toys. Also, make sure no cords or strings are anywhere near the crib, which increases the risk of strangulation. Be aware of heavy art or decorations over the crib as well that could fall.
One of the most significant hazards with cribs as your child grows is the risk of falling. Ensure the mattress height is appropriate so your child can't roll or climb out. When your toddler can climb out, the crib is no longer suitable or safe. So it's time to change your child's sleeping arrangement.
As babies grow and can roll around, sit up, stand, or play around, it's more challenging to change their diaper. A safe changing table is essential to keep your baby secure and reduce the risk of falls. The table should have a guardrail at least two inches high around it, and the changing pad should have raised sides to prevent easy rolling. A strap with a buckle is recommended to keep your baby secure. But don't rely on it solely. Also, keep all diaper supplies within reach under the changing table, so you never have to leave your baby's side. Like any equipment, make sure the changing table is put together correctly and sturdy and be aware of the manufacturer's recommended weight limits.
Swings & Rockers
Swings and rockers can help soothe a fussy or sleepy baby, especially if they have issues with laying flat like reflux or need a soothing motion to calm them. Swings and rockers are also a handy place to entertain babies while you get things done. But only put a baby in a swing when you're able to see and be aware of your baby.
This type of baby equipment has had many recalls. Some rockers and swings are advertised for sleep and to help with naps. But according to manufacturers and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and US Consumer Product Safety Commission, swings and rockers aren't safe for sleeping without supervision.
The safest way for babies to sleep is flat on their back. This type of equipment puts a baby's head and neck at an angle, which can negatively impact their breathing. Discontinue the use of swings and rockers when your baby can sit up or roll. Also, always follow the recommended weight and height limits.
Strollers are a useful way to transport children. But anything on wheels carries risk. It's essential to follow the manufacturer's stated weight limit and use strollers according to their directions.
Use only jogging style strollers for running or faster activity. Also, make sure your stroller is set up correctly, and re-tighten bolts and other parts occasionally as well. Check tire alignment and inflation levels regularly, if applicable.
If using a car seat with the stroller, only use car seats that are made to go with your specific stroller. Then make sure the seats are correctly installed and securely clicked before using. Never leave your child unattended in a stroller, and always buckle them in correctly. Allow only one child per seat and make sure they're sitting down at all times (unless the stroller has an area designed specifically for standing). When not in motion, use the stroller locks to prevent it from rolling away. Many strollers, particularly jogging strollers, have a wrist strap you should wear in case the stroller does start to move for any reason.
To learn more about child equipment safety, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a great resource. It posts recalls, safety recommendations for parents, and equipment safety requirements for manufacturers.
It isn't possible to eliminate all potential risks to children. So the best way to keep children safe is for an adult to be present and aware when equipment is in use. Be sure to check regularly for product recalls. New purchases should come with postcard forms to send back to the company for alerts of any recalls with the product. Also, periodically check equipment to make sure it's in good shape, and don't leave young children unsupervised.