Is there anything more precious than watching your little bundle of energy toddle around, gnawing on her binky? Anything sweeter than seeing her curled up in her crib, still clutching her nighttime bottle? As innocent as these activities appear, there are hidden dangers lurking in these familiar family scenes. Researchers warn that some of the most frequently used baby products, such as pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups, can cause injury if not used properly.
A new study from the Center for Biobehavioral Health and Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that emergency rooms treat thousands of children per year for injuries caused by seemingly harmless objects. Baby bottles accounted for almost two-thirds of the E.R. trips, followed by pacifiers and sippy cups. According to the study, most of the injuries occurred as children approached the 1 year mark—about the time when tiny tots are transitioning to walking.
Pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. Cheryl Wu warns, "Parents need to understand that whenever children are 'on the move' and have something in their mouths, a potentially severe injury can happen—they would never let their kids run or walk around with a pencil or scissors in their hands—so it's the same thing for eating while walking/running, or drinking out of a bottle/cup and using a pacifier while moving. If parents can change their paradigm and realize that this is a dangerous situation, then it becomes easier to implement prevention."
Minimize accidents by raising your awareness of potential hazards and by following the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics for use of these everyday objects. Keep these rules in mind as your tiny one grows into a mobile toddler.
- Using a pacifier to soothe your little one to sleep is okay, but the AAP recommends that binkies be removed after she's drifted off to dreamland. Don't leave the pacifier in the crib and don't try to reinsert it if it falls out. If your baby starts to whimper, wait a few minutes to see if she settles down without her comfort object. Speak soothingly or sing a favorite lullaby instead of returning the pacifier to her mouth—the risks to your baby of bedding down with a binky outweigh the benefits.
- Never using a string or cord to keep a pacifier attached to your baby. If your child drops, throws or refuses her pacifier, don't force it on her—use other methods to stop the crying and fussing. Distract her with a soft toy, rock her and try to figure out the root cause of the fussiness—it may be hunger or just time for a nap. Temporary comfort with a pacifier won't solve the underlying problem (and may even make it worse).
- Only give your little one her pacifier while she's sitting or laying down. When she starts to stand and walk, remove the pacifier from her mouth for safety. As she nears the one-year mark, she's old enough to try out some other methods of self-soothing. Thumb-sucking isn't ideal, but it's actually a safer alternative for small toddlers in the interim. Talk to your pediatrician about ways you can wean her off the binky.
- Kids falling while holding a bottle made up 66 percent of the E.R. incidents in the study. Balance is crucial for tiny legs to get the hang of toddling, running, and even pulling up to a standing position. Carrying or sucking on a bottle simultaneously is risky for little ones on the go, so always take away a bottle at the first sign that your baby's starting to get active.
- AAP guidelines warn against "propping" bottles up during mealtime. When bottles aren't held, you and your baby have no control over the amount of formula or milk that's flowing. If your child ingests too much fluid too quickly, it can accumulate in her ear canal and cause infection; in the worst case scenario, asphyxiation can occur. Hold the bottle and watch your baby carefully as she feeds. Remove the bottle when she's full and don't leave it in the crib—never allow her to jump up and take off with her "ba-ba" in hand.
- Both the AAP and the American Dental Association recommend weaning children off sippy cups by their first birthday, as research found that sippy cup injuries actually increased with age. Just as with bottles, tumbles accounted for most serious sippy cup accidents (86.1 percent in this study). Many parents allow their kid to walk and play with the cups as they get older—mistakenly assuming that they're safer somehow. Instead, consider transitioning your baby straight to a "big kid" cup from the bottle, and only give her beverages while she's sitting down.
Bottles, binkies and baby cups provide comfort for your baby, making it easy to become so accustomed to them that you let your guard down and fail to recognize the possibility of harm. One of the authors of this latest study, Dr. Lara McKenzie, writes that, "Educating parents and caregivers about the importance of transitioning their children away from these products at the ages recommended by the AAP and AAPD could prevent up to 80 percent of the injuries related to baby bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups."
Awareness is the key to safety here. By understanding and remaining vigilant about age appropriate guidelines and expert recommendations for these objects, you'll ensure your baby stays comfortable and safe. Win-win!