The baby shower is a rite of passage for new moms; who wouldn't love friends and family members are coming together to shower a new arrival with all of the things she needs for a happy and healthy first year? From cribs to clothes and binkies to balls, everyone is eager to help you out with those first year purchases. But before you hand a toy over to your newborn babe, consider this: the Consumer Product Safety Commission received 251,700 reports of toy-related injuries in 2010 alone. It just goes to show you that not all of those toys you were given at your baby shower are safe for your bundle of joy.

Since toys can be hazardous to your little one's health, it's up to you to be proactive in ensuring toy safety. As a parent, you can't afford to be lazy when it comes to purchasing, inspecting and supervising toys and playtime, especially during the crucial first your of your baby's life. Pinched fingers, choking hazards and dangling strings can all turn playtime from delightful to dangerous.

From 0 to 6 Months

When you have a newborn, you'll need to be extra vigilant about the toys your baby plays with. While she might be fairly immobile, she can still reach, tug on toys and explore items with her mouth. Here's some tips to help her stay safe.

  • Don't offer toys filled with beans or small balls. Sure, they're fun to squish and mold, but the stitching on the outside of beanbag toys can come undone, exposing the material inside. These beans, balls and other fillers can then be swallowed, resulting in a major choking hazard.
  • Cut ribbons and strings. Those pretty mobiles and fancy beribboned toys look great in your baby's nursery, but they pose several hazards. Not only could a toy with a string become wrapped around a child's neck, causing strangulation, they can also become wrapped around limbs, cutting off circulation for long periods of time. Go through all of your baby toys and cut off hanging ribbons and strings to be on the safe side.
  • Test toys for choking hazards. As your baby gets older and more curious, the more likely she is to put items in her mouth. Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, suggests this tip: "If the part of a toy can fit in a toilet paper roll, the toy is not appropriate for children under the age of 3." Test the toy before handing it over and encouraging play.

From 6 to 12 Months

As your baby Einstein grows, becomes more mobile and develops each day, she'll want to explore new toys that make sounds, flash lights and offer cause-and-effect play. Unfortunately, these toys can also be dangerous when used improperly, so watch out for potential hazards.

  • Adhere to age recommendations. Sure, your Aunt Edna meant well by buying your little one a game for a much older child—she probably thinks your baby's smart enough to play! But age recommendations on toy packaging are meant to help you judge your babe's ability to use a toy safely and properly. If those puzzle pieces could cause choking, stash it and any other age-inappropriate toys away for later—and when her birthday rolls around again, share gentle suggestions for more suitable gifts. "Make recommendations to family members and friends about gifts that you feel are appropriate for your child," suggests Parry.
  • Inspect toys. Your child's old enough to show excitement and impatience to play with a new toy, but before you surrender that doll, check it out. Look for loose threats, loose battery compartments, twist ties and other packaging materials and accessories that could be choking hazards. It only takes a few minutes to give a toy the once-over before you hand it over to your eager explorer.
  • Ditch the balloons. What's a first birthday without balloons? Before you grab that balloon bouquet, think twice. Balloons are major choking hazards, especially if they pop while near your baby's face. Try using balloon alternatives, like streamers and banners, in place of the traditional birthday decor. Or, if you must have balloons, go with mylar, which are harder to pop and deflate rather than explode. Remind your family and friends that balloons are not toys and to focus on the presents and cake instead.

While the first year can often seem like a landmine in terms of safety, you can avoid nearly all of the pitfalls of play if you're a vigilant parent. A few minutes of inspection before playtime can make all the difference in your baby's safety. Besides, every parent knows that most babies are more excited about the box a toy came in than the toy itself!