When it comes to baby safety, there are quite a few rules you probably know well: Put baby to sleep on his back, no bumpers or loose bedding in the crib, store poisonous items out of reach, never leave baby unattended on an elevated surface. The list goes on and on. Even though you do all of those things (and more), you may still be making mistakes that put your baby at risk. Right these wrongs to keep your baby safe.
Your baby sleeps in his car seat or swing
The last thing any parent wants to do when a baby falls asleep in the car seat or swing is wake him up by moving him. However, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that letting infants and children up to 2 years of age sleep in so-called “sitting devices” can lead to injury or death. When a baby sleeps in a car seat or swing, his head can fall forward, which can cause him to not get enough air or to be strangled by the straps, says Katie McPeak, M.D., medical director of primary care at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. If your baby falls asleep in the seat while you’re driving, it’s not a big risk, as long as the car seat is secured in the car properly, and he’s buckled in correctly. Once you make it home, though, take him out of the seat and put him in his crib. The same thing applies if he falls asleep in the bouncer, swing, sling, or stroller. Relocate him to the safety of the crib.
You go down the slide together
You may go down the slide with your baby or toddler because it’s fun, she needs a little coaxing, or you want to make sure she reaches the other end safely. But going down in tandem could be risky. One study looked at pediatric shin bone fractures over an 11-month period and found nearly 14 percent happened when the child was going down the slide on an adult’s lap. “The child’s shoe or foot can catch on the slide, and then because the parent’s weight is coming down behind the child, it can cause the leg to twist or break,” says Tracy Mehan, manager of translational research in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. The better option: Let your child go solo. “Lift her up to the halfway point and have her slide from there,” Mehan says. If your kiddo is afraid to go without you, choose a different activity until she’s ready.
The brake on your stroller doesn’t get enough use
We all know we’re supposed to apply the brakes on the stroller every time we take our hands off of it, but many parents don’t, Mehan says. All it takes is turning your head for one second, and then somebody bumps the stroller, an older sibling pushes it, or depending on how big the baby is, her wiggling can make it move, she says. That can be especially dangerous if you’re on an elevated surface, or if the stroller rolls into traffic, parked cars, or it flips over. It’s also crucial to use the brake when you are putting your child in or taking him out of the stroller, or if you need to access the storage backet under the stroller. Make it a habit to apply the brakes every time you remove your hands, even if it’s only for a second. To help, remember this quick phrase: “Hands off, brake on.”
You use a head support with the car seat
If it didn’t come with the car seat, don’t use it. After-market car seat products like head and body supports and strap covers are a safety hazard. If an item wasn’t designed specifically for that particular car seat, it wasn’t safety-tested for that seat and could alter the performance of the car seat in the event of an injury, Dr. McPeak says. The same is true for fluffy winter coats and blankets. “They can make the distance between the baby and the straps wide enough that the baby could be ejected from the car seat in a crash,” Dr. McPeak warns.
To keep your baby warm, she recommends putting the blanket or coat on top of the straps, not on the baby. If you want to use head or body supports, check with the car seat manufacturer to see if there are any add-ons made (and safety-tested) specifically for your seat.
Your child eats (and drinks) on the go
We get it: Giving your toddler a snack or sippy cup decreases crying during car rides. But if your baby chokes, you won’t be able to see her in a rear-facing car seat, and you may not hear her since choking typically has no sound, says Melanie Potock, co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. Even if you notice choking, it’s dangerous to try to quickly maneuver through traffic to be able to help her. In addition, “Hard-spouted sippy cups or hard plastic straws can cause facial lacerations should you need to hit the brakes quickly,” Potock says. Your best bet: Use a straw cup with a soft, silicone straw. Plan trips so that your child is able to have a sit-down meal before or after the ride. If you have to feed her on the road, pull over to a safe spot and get in the backseat with her. If she must have something and you can’t pull over, an o-shaped, non-sugary, meltable cereal is best.
Your toddler loves to “greet” dogs
We all know little kids, babies included, love animals. So when your toddler sees a cute, fuzzy doggie, her first instinct is to run up and give him a rub, which isn’t a good idea. Animals (all, not only dogs) are unpredictable. When you pair that with a small kid, who might do things or move in ways the animal perceives as a threat, things could get dicey fast. Even at this early age, you should begin teaching your child how to interact with animals. “Let your child know, ‘Every time you want to approach an animal, you need to be with an adult and ask first,” Mehan says. Then, she says, calmly walk towards the owner, ask for permission, and ask how the dog likes to be approached. Some dogs want to see your hands in front of their face; others prefer you stand by their side so they don’t feel threatened. Show your child how to pet the dog—the ASPCA advises taking care to avoid petting the dog on the top of the head—and talk to her about always being gentle. Once she’s done, teach her to thank the owner and say goodbye to the doggy.
You cover the stroller to protect your baby from the sun
If you have to go out on a scorching day, you probably cover your baby’s stroller with a blanket to reduce his sun exposure. But according to researchers in Sweden, this simple act—with even the thinnest blanket—can be quite serious because it reduces air circulation and the temperature in the stroller can get dangerously high, putting your baby at risk for heat stroke, suffocation and even SIDS. “Babies can overheat in a much shorter time than adults, so it’s never a good idea to cover a baby’s stroller,” Dr. McPeak says. To protect your baby from the sun and heat, stay in when the temperatures are high (if possible), use a stroller that has a canopy, or use a parasol (an umbrella that clips on the stroller). Also, check on your baby frequently for signs of discomfort or heat exhaustion.