Bringing home a new baby means plenty of prep work for parents. From painting the nursery and purchasing diapers to packing a hospital bag, there's not much time for rest before it's time to welcome your newest addition. But don't get so busy that you forget one of the most important parts of prepping for baby: baby proofing your home. While you might think your house is perfect, the first and second years could spell out danger for your mini-me. Get on top of the baby proofing situation by knowing which products and safeguards you need—and which once you can skip.
During the First Year
From the first smile to first words, you'll constantly be amazed at how your baby grows each day during the first year. But the first 12 months also mean that your babe becomes mobile, so it's time to baby proof areas that he can access through rolling, scooting and crawling.
- Get on the floor. One of the most effective ways to get started on baby proofing your home is to get down to your little one's level. Get on your belly and look around the room to see things that might attract your child's attention. Think sockets, wires, strings and stairs. It'll make it easier to know which things need to be baby proofed in the process.
- Cover sockets. One of the most important baby proofing must-haves are socket covers. Sockets are just the right size for curious baby fingers and they could cause extreme electrocution. Look for plain socket covers that seal off the holes and don't attract attention—the character covers are cute, but they're practically an invitation for your baby to toddle over and tinker with them.
- Tie up cords. Those blind cords and drapery tiebacks that make your window treatments look so stylish? Major strangulation hazard. If your crawling baby were to get tangled up in cords or strings of any home decor or electronics, it could be deadly. Tie them up and away from baby's reach.
- Crib dangers. Not all of your baby's first-year dangers are on the floor. Some could be in the very place where he should be the safest—his crib. To be safe, always choose a crib without a drop sides, since many have been recalled due to baby entrapment issues. That cute bed set you purchased? Use only the fitted sheet and ditch the bumper and pillows, which could cause asphyxiation.
During the Second Year
Once your baby is up off the floor, it opens up a whole new world of exploration for him and a whole new world of worries for you. Make sure that everything eye-level is safe, because your curious toddler will be interested in climbing on and touching nearly everything.
- Anchors away: You might love your cherry TV hutch, but it can be seriously dangerous if you have an adventurous toddler. Placing weight on the front of a large, heavy piece of furniture could cause toppling. Always anchor large pieces of furniture to the wall and discourage your tiny Tarzan from climbing.
- Counter covers. Your toddler's the perfect height for exploring—straight into protruding edges. Counters, coffee tables and other furniture with right angles can mean bumped heads and tears, which is why plastic counter covers are in order. They add a soft layer of plastic around sharp corners to protect your baby's head. Another option is a corner guard; these foam triangles slide over sharp corners, but should be attached to a surface, or they could become yet another toy in your tiny adventurer's collection.
- Cabinet locks. Avoid accidental poisoning by locking up cleaning products—they have bright, enticing labels that attract curious toddlers. Parent coach Tammy Gold warns, "People will spend thousands of dollars on gates, protectors and the like yet have harmful chemicals in their cleaners and products they use on their babies...there are tons of products which are terribly dangerous to children if ingested or even on their skin."
- Stair gates. Your toddler's totally into discovering new areas of your home, but your unsteady toddler might not be adept enough to navigate the stairs. Invest in a pair of stair gates so you can decide when you want to work on stair climbing—and when they're off limits.
Stuff You Don't Need
The baby safety industry is worth millions of dollars, which means plenty of inventors come up with gear that's painted as "necessary" for your baby's safety. However, some of the silly products, while enticing, are completely unnecessary—and sometimes even dangerous.
- Bath seats. While you definitely want to practice safe bathing with your baby, bath seats, which lock baby into an upright position, could be dangerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that they could cause underwater entrapment and drowning. Besides that, no matter what safety gear you have, you should never leave baby unattended near water, no matter how shallow.
- Bump helmets. While some babies require helmets for cranium reshaping, helmets that are simply to protect your baby from bumps and bruises are tempting, but unnecessary. All babies and toddlers are naturally clumsy, but under your watchful eye, your baby will only need a guiding hand to keep him safe.
- Car seat add-ons. While they might help keep your baby warm, occupied or comfortable, it's never OK to use a product with your car seat that has not been approved by it's manufacturer. In some cases, products that come between your baby's body and the car seat straps and other components could completely void your car seat warranty.
While the whole idea of baby proofing might leave you feeling nervous about impending parenthood, it's all about common sense. As your baby grows and develops, you'll know his personality well enough that you can anticipate possible hazards based on his mobility and sense of curiosity. A trip to the baby supply store and a free afternoon means you can complete a task on your baby prep checklist—first new parent worry session? Check!