Raise your hand if you're a brand-new parent—feeling clueless and overwhelmed! Hey, all newbie moms and dads feel that way after leaving the hospital with their new bundle of joy. You've got lots to worry about, from feeding schedules to sleeping, and capturing every possible moment with your camera. But how much thought have you put into baby safety? Since your babe's pretty much immobile for the first few months, it's up to you to make sure she's safe and healthy. Unfortunately, some of the biggest safety offenders can be in your own home, so keep an eagle-eye out for some of these potential dangers.
- Car seat guidelines. The car seat is the most important piece of baby equipment you'll buy. In fact, hospitals won't let you leave without one! Make sure you purchase one new, or a used one that isn't past its expiration date of four to five years post-manufacturing (each state has different requirements). While you might have cute add-ons to go with your car seat, accoutrements that haven't been tested for safety can void the warranty. Skip aftermarket stuff unless it's clearly marked as safety tested for the exact model you're using. If you're unsure about your car seat installation, bring the seat to the hospital or a firehouse while you're pregnant. In general, the car seat should be ratcheted tightly enough so that it moves less than one inch in any direction, and the straps should be tight enough that you cannot pinch any excess fabric when your babe is buckled in. Remember that car seats are meant for travel only, not as a bed alternative. A study published in a 2009 issue of Pediatrics found that infant oxygen saturation levels were significantly lower in car seats than they were in a safe bed.
- Safe sleep. After making it safely home, it's time to rock your little one to sleep. Infants spend a ton of time napping—even if it doesn't feel like it—so you need to provide a safe environment to snooze. The American Pediatrics Association recommends the ABC approach to sleep: Alone, on her Back, and in a Crib. While some might choose to co-sleep, you should know that the APA approach is the only one currently recommended and proven to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Crib dangers. Sure, those cushions and the bumper that came with your baby's crib set is adorable, but they can also be super dangerous. Blankets, pillows, and other soft stuff can cover your baby's nose and mouth, resulting in suffocation. Ditch the extras until your child's at least a year old; she only needs warm jammies and a light blanket to catch zzz's now.
- Bathing beauty. Giving your baby her first bath is one of those picture-worthy events, so snap away—after you've tested the water for safety. Baby's bath water should stay between 90 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit—test with the inside of your wrist. If you're nervous, you can grab a thermometer and test the water. While you're at it, make sure you stick right by your babe the entire time you're bathing her. Never leave her unattended, even if it's just for a second. It always helps to grab the products and towels you need beforehand, so everything is within arm's reach.
- Down will come baby. You might have gotten a ton of helpful gadgets at your baby shower; swings, bouncers, seats, the works. But it's important to remember that no gadget is a replacement for your supervision. Jennifer Hoekstra, Safe Kids Coordinator at the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, warns against putting gadgets in unsafe places or leaving your little one unattended. "Never leave a child unattended on the changing table, couch, or adult bed—they can roll at any age," she says. "When using a swing or bouncy seat ALWAYS use the strap provided to secure them in the seat."
- Sibling love. If you have other kids at home, they're going to be curious about the new addition, and shower her with love. Of course, that love can be dangerous if it's unsupervised. If your other kids want to hold the new baby, make sure you're on hand to make sure she's properly cradled. Keep a sharp eye out for sneaky kids who want to steal baby out of her crib for a quick squeeze; toddlers and preschoolers are notorious for trying to pick up newborns without the proper supervision, which could lead to falls.
- CPR and first aid. Sheneq Aranda, a parenting expert and member of the International Association for Child Safety suggests that you try a CPR class. "Parents should be trained in infant CPR. A couple of hours of training can literally help save your baby's life in an emergency," she warns. "Be sure to educate other caregivers and family members on safety issues. You may have CPR training, but if another caregiver is looking after your baby and doesn't know CPR during an emergency, your CPR training won't help save your baby." Most hospitals offer CPR training as part of the discharge process, but if not, community courses can give you the confidence you need to help take care of your little one.
The first three months will fly by, and as long as you're totally aware of your surroundings and potential safety issues, you don't need to bubble-wrap your baby. Instead, you can put your energy toward taking pictures, tons of snuggles, and changing diapers—lucky you!