From the moment you bring your son or daughter home from the hospital, it's important to think about their safety. Children can get into a lot of trouble with common household items, so take stock of what you'll need to change before baby arrives.
One great place to start your safety check is with your child's crib. "The one thing you don't want is a garage sale find or an antique crib," says Schaefer-Wilson. What looks like a great deal could have loose hardware, lead paint, rusted hinges and a slew of other problems that could endanger your child. It's best to start fresh with a new, modern crib. "When it comes to buying, the two things you want to buy new are car seats and cribs," says Schaefer-Wilson.
Once you've found a crib, keep it clutter free. It's best to keep stuffed animals, loose blankets and unnecessary bumpers or toys out - they're all suffocation and choking hazards for baby. "An empty crib is the safest crib," says Schaefer-Wilson.
The nursery itself can be a hazard to an unsupervised toddler. Be sure to secure all bureaus, book cases and other large pieces of furniture with anti-tip restraints. These strips or brackets - which are now usually included with your furniture at the time of purchase - attach the furniture to the wall to keep it from tipping over. They're usually screwed into a wall stud for extra security. "It's amazing how easily you can actually tip [furniture]," says Schaefer-Wilson. "If you open all the drawers - or sometimes just two drawers in a unit all the way - it will tip over." If your furniture didn't come with anti-tip restraints, check your local hardware or baby store store; they shouldn't cost more than a few dollars.
Also, try to keep furniture away from windows. Children love to climb, and if you have a window propped open on a sunny day, a screen won't prevent a child from falling through.
Childproofing your kitchen is another important step. While most new parents know to lock up cleaning supplies and put handle protectors on their stove knobs, many forget that some obvious hazards are often used as toys while Mom or Dad is cooking: pots and pans. A child who plays with one pot or pan may see it on the stove the next day and try to pull it down, causing burns or other injuries. Instead, bring other toys into the kitchen while you're cooking, like a play kitchen or another type of toy.
In the same respect, don't store your child's favorite treats over the stove. If your child knows that their favorite cookies are kept above the stove, they may try to climb up one day while you're not looking and burn themselves in the process.
You'll also need to babyproof your bathroom. The most important rule is to keep your eyes on your child at all times; don't leave your son or daughter unattended in the bathtub. A child can drown in a moment's notice. "Your child must be within arms reach," says Schaefer-Wilson. Don't get up to answer the phone; wait until your child's bath is done and he or she is safely out of the water.
There are other hazards in the bathtub as well. Check your child's toys to be sure they're not small enough to swallow. Be sure the net or basket that holds the toys is secure and safely out of reach. Try adding a rubber cover to your bathtub faucet so that your child can't bang their head against it. Lower your hot water heater to 120 degrees to lower the risk of scalding. Keep adult bath products out of reach. Keep the number of your local poison control center on hand just in case your son or daughter does manage to eat shampoo, soap or another personal hygiene product. When in doubt, call 911.
Finally, take a good look at your family room. Just like other heavy furniture, fasten your TV unit to the wall with anti-tip restraints. If possible, fasten your television to the wall as well. If your child sees their favorite cartoon character on TV, they might be tempted to try to reach for it, knocking the television over in the process.
Also, if you have more than one child, separate their toys. Toys for children under three years old don't have many small parts; on the other hand, toys for older children often have several. Avoid choking hazards by keeping toys for different age groups separated.
Take a good look at your furniture too. If you have tables with pointy corners, buy padding, foam or corner covers to prevent your child from hurting themselves if they fall into it. If you have glass table tops, pay attention to the type of glass used. "Now you can actually buy a table with tempered glass, meaning if it breaks, it will break into small pieces instead of glass shards," says Schaefer-Wilson. If all else fails, move the coffee table away from your children's play area - or into another room - until your child grows a little older.
For more information on babyproofing your home, as well as additional parenting advice, click here to visit www.AmericanBaby.com.
By Erin Petrun