How to Keep Babies Safe from Household Hazards

Do you tie a knot in all your empty plastic bags? One of my best friends had done it for years, and as a new mum it took me a while to click to the rationale of adding the bothersome workload of needing to untie a knot in a plastic bag every time I’d want to use one. But you see, it’s a preventative for children accidentally suffocating. Oh!

Jeepers, there are so many ways we can fail to foresee every lurking danger as we confront the enormous responsibility of safe-guarding our precious children.

We all know to put our poisons in locked cupboards or on high shelves. Yada, yada. But had you included the dishwashing liquid amongst the list?

In my small country of four million, a frightening 15,000 under-5’s are hospitalized annually for primarily avoidable poisonings and injuries, with three-quarters of those occurring in the home. Now that’s scary. There’s only 60,000 babies born each year. So that means, statistically almost one in four Kiwi children will have been poisoned or had a serious preventable injury requiring hospitalization before they even start school – and mostly under our maternal watch. Cripes.

With a non-crawling baby, we can tend to be a little relaxed in our vigilance, because they don’t seem that mobile. We know to always have at least one hand holding our baby on a change table, and we never leave a littlie in a bath unattended (even in a baby bath-seat). But did you realise that babies can suffocate on a bean-bag or cushion, or even in their cot from a pillow or duvet (so use air-cell blankets and babies don’t need pillows, heck they’ve got no neck.)

One of the commonest preventable injuries I’ve often heard mothers embarrassingly admit to, is young babies accidentally scratching their faces (or worse, their eye’s cornea) with their razor-sharp tiny fingernails because they weren’t wrapped like a burrito for sleep using a good swaddling cloth. Remember, babies are born with zero control over their flailing limbs (their neurons are not yet myelinated so their brain has little ability yet to command an arm or leg to do anything).

What of those toddlers who are standing and jumping in their cots even before their first birthday party? I have heard of a toddler whose cot-side suddenly dropped and she landed neck first on it, crushing her trachea to death. Then of course there are the numerous cot fall accidents from toddlers trying to climb out. A sleep-wrap or attached sleep-bag can be a wise decision.

Another biggie is parents holding their baby then tripping as they climb over a safety-gate instead of opening the safety-gate. The two other common while-carried-by-parent infant falls are caused by items cluttering stairs, and parents tripping while wearing a front-pack/back-pack/sling. The problem in all those situations is that we usually can’t see our feet – and being able to maintain visual contact with one’s feet while carrying a baby is rather a wise thing to do. Tricky yes, but wise.

The next one you already know: Never hold a baby with a hot drink in your other hand. But I know, it’s just soooo tempting, and such good time-management carrying your cuppa from the kitchen to the lounge while carrying your baby with you, or sneaking a sip of coffee while breastfeeding. But don’t do it, please. Infant skin is way thinner than adult skin and it damages easily. A bit of warm coffee over you isn’t usually a big deal, but over a baby it can mean skin-graphs and lifelong scarring – and the Bad-Mother guilt from that incident can be almost unbearable.

Another couple of final easily-unthought-of No-No’s: Firstly, no items within a baby’s grasp, ever, that are less than 3cm wide or 6cm long. Remember everything goes into a baby’s mouth for analysis, and babies can choke way too easily. Secondly, no blind/curtain-cord drawstrings, belts or suchlike within reach – littlies have even strangled themselves with the strap from their mother’s handbag.

I truly understand that it’s not so much the fear of blowing it, which causes us all the most anguish – our real daily dread is the fear of blowing it so badly that the outcome is irreversible. So know, that the didn’t-see-that-coming moments will arise, for decades in fact. But when they do, promise me you won’t berate yourself too hard that your Mummy-Antenna let you down, because we do the hardest job on the planet, and we do it so well!

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