Babyproofing Essentials in 2020: How to Make Your Home Safe for Baby

Babies are born curious.  Their curiosity is powerful.  Prior to crawling, babies explore their own bodies, their surroundings, and anyone lucky enough to snuggle them.  Glasses, earrings, necklaces, clothing, hair – all fair game.  Once they can crawl, everything in the room is interesting.  But when little hands grab for things like medications, household cleaners, choking hazards or electrical sockets, their exploratory missions can become dangerous.  Babyproofing your home helps make your home safer for baby to explore. 

When to babyproof.  If not before, by the time your baby starts crawling (usually around 8 to 12 months), you should have babyproofed your home to some degree.  Crawling is a game changer.  Suddenly, baby can move about on his or her own and get into things before you even see it coming.  Consequently, it is best to have your house babyproofed for at least the most foreseeable risks before baby becomes mobile.

Some parents update their babyproofing measures as their child grows and can reach more (or climb!).  We, however, did it all at once.  For me, there was just so much to pay attention to and be responsible for as a first time parent that I was worried I would drop the babyproofing update ball.  If you decide to do it in stages, perhaps calendar babyproofing updates or find some other way to remind you to do so. 

What to babyproof and how to do so.  Wow.  Where do I start?  Ordinary houseplants, household cleaners and medications - even items safe for grownups (like mouthwash) - can be poisonous.  From choking hazards like small items to cords for window blinds and phone and computer chargers, to electrical sockets and furniture that can tip over – nothing is off limits to an exploring child if left on his or her own for even a few seconds.  Consequently, it is best to go through your house with a fine-tooth comb.  Think like a child.  What attracts you?  (HINT: everything!!)  What can hurt you?  (HINT: a lot!)

Furniture.  Let’s start with an obvious, yet surprisingly overlooked danger: furniture.  Any piece of furniture that could conceivably tip over should be secured to the wall.  This is SO important, yet often not done.  Why?  Well, according to Consumer Reports, those who do not do so either dismiss the risk as unlikely, see the effort as too intimidating or find it difficult once starting, or they just don't want to put holes in their walls.  However, securing your furniture is essential. 

About every 43 minutes, a child in the U.S. is injured from a TV or furniture tip-over incident.  Each year, furniture tip-overs cause thousands of injuries serious enough to send approximately 12,500 children to the emergency room.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, since 2000, 459 children have died in the U.S. from tip-over incidents.  Of the deaths, 55% of children were crushed and remained under product(s); 15% died from being hit/struck by product(s) but not crushed under product(s); and 21% died due to positional asphyxia.  Most of the victims were children younger than 6.  In fact, 67 percent of child tip-over fatalities since 2000 involved children between 1 and 3.5 years old.  Eighty-three percent of child tip-over fatalities since 2000 involve children aged 1 month to 14 years old. 

Believe it or not, these numbers are an improvement from prior years.  Due in part to the activism of parents whose children died, the CPSC started the “Anchor It” Campaign in early 2015, a national public education campaign to prevent furniture and television tip-overs from killing and seriously injuring children.  There are also multiple other non-profits, such as Charlie’s House and Shane’s Foundation working hard to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of securing furniture. 

Young, curious, mobile children explore. That sometimes includes climbing dressers or bookshelves and reaching for things in high-up places.  According to Consumer Report’s chief scientific officer, James Dickerson, “Dressers are particularly prone to tipping because their center of gravity can shift rapidly when a drawer is opened or when weight, such as the weight of a child, is placed on one or more open drawers.”   Tip-overs of dressers and other clothing storage units are particular deadly. 

To help prevent furniture tip overs, 

  • Use sturdy furniture
  • Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall 
  • Follow manufacturer's instructions to secure TVs and furniture properly to walls
  • Remove items that may tempt children to climb on the furniture
  • Secure top-heavy furniture with anti-tip devices, whether it's old or new

Many nursery items are sold with anti-tip devices included.  Anti-tip furniture devices also can be purchased at home improvement stores, online, at electronic stores, and at mass merchandise stores.   Install the anti-tip devices according to manufacturer instructions, and always double check the attachment points to make sure the device is secure.  For a list of top anti-tip kits, click here

For videos on how to properly install anti-tip furniture anchors to drywall and/or brick, click here.  For additional information on how to install, click here.   

Windows.  According to The Nationwide Children's Hospital, around 3,300 children between the ages of 0 and 4 years old fall from a window each year.  To help make windows safe for baby, limit access.  Make sure you don’t have any furniture giving “stepping stone” access to any windows.  This includes cribs.  Also, whenever possible, keep windows shut and locked.  Screens are not strong enough to withstand a child’s weight or pressure.  They will not stop falls. 

If you can't keep your windows shut and locked, consider installing window guards or window stops.  For more information on these, including helpful installation and use tips, click here.  

To protect against broken glass, shard-proof window films are now available.  While they don’t prevent the glass from breaking, they can contain the damage.  When impacted, security window film holds glass fragments in place to ensure the glass will not shatter, minimizing damages and decreasing the chance of injury when broken.  For a step-by-step guide on how to install safety film for your home windows, click here

Lastly, in addition to inherent dangers with windows, window treatments can create hazards.   For example, a child can pull on a curtain and accidentally rip the curtain rod out of the wall.  Yes, that happens.  In fact, my two-year-old managed to yank the curtain and dislodge the curtain rod in his nursery.  Thankfully, the rod did not hit him!  We never in a million years saw that coming!

Additionally, some curtains and blinds have cords that can choke or strangle a child.  If you can't replace the window treatment with a cordless option, the Window Covering Safety Council provides information on how to make your treatments safer.  It also offers free window cord retrofit kits.  

Electrical cords and chargers.  Electrical cords and chargers can cause severe injury.  The cords themselves can be used to pull the electronic down onto baby.  They can cause electrical shock – especially if the baby chews through the protective coating on the cord.  Electrical cords also can be tripping and strangulation hazards.  And did you know your phone and computer chargers can cause severe electrical burns? 

To the extent you can, tuck your cords and chargers away and keep them out of reach.  If you cannot put them away, limit access by strategically placing furniture in front of, on, or over the cords or by strapping the cords down with tape or duct cover.  TIP: in an area such as an office where there are multiple cords in the same location, wrap the cords together and then secure.   You can also minimize access by using a cord shortener and cover such as this one by Safety First:

 Safety 1st Cord Shortener

Electrical Outlets.  For some reason, babies love electrical outlets. Maybe it is because they look like little hiding spots.  Maybe they see you use them and want to imitate you.  Maybe it’s because outlets look like little faces, waiting to be fed something – coins, dirt, whatever is on hand.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, every year, approximately 2,400 children suffer from severe shock and burns caused by items being poked into the slots of electrical receptacles. Approximately 12 children will die from these injuries each year. 

There are many types of electrical outlets and covers.  The receptacle box is what the electrical wiring screws into.  That is generally the source of potential danger.  Whether and to what extent additional measures for safety need to be taken will depend on the type of receptacle boxes and outlet covers you have.  For an in-depth look at precautions based on outlet and receptacle type, click here.  

An easy precaution for all outlet types is outlet plugs, like this one from ProBebi.  

Outlet Plugs

These plastic plugs fit into the outlet and present a smooth surface, making removal difficult for a child.  You will need to count all of your outlets that are in any way accessible to a curious explore and purchase the correct number of plugs.  There are a variety of styles and prices.

The downside of electrical safety plugs is that you will need to remove and replace them every time you use the outlet.  This makes it easy for them to be lost or forgotten.  As such, you may want to install self-closing (aka sliding) outlet covers on outlets you will frequently use.  To install, unscrew and remove your existing outlet cover and replace with the self-closing one.  When the electrical cord is removed, the cover slides automatically back to plug the holes. 

Wittle Baby Self Closing Outlet Covers

The above-pictured self-closing plug is a product by Wittle Baby, but there are many different styles and prices available

Some outlets will always have something plugged into them, such as outlets powering TVs or lamps.   To protect against curious fingers, you can install an outlet box, such as this one by Safety Innovations

Safety Innovations Twin Door Babyproof Outlet Box

To install, you simply remove your existing plate and replace it with the provide flatter face plate and box.

Power strips also need babyproofing.  Power strips sit on the ground, which in baby-speak means “toy.”  Not only can they shock a child in the same manner outlets can, they are dangerous because they provide a child with a cord, which can be used to pull down whatever it is attached to.  There are many different power strip covers on the market at a variety of prices, including this one by SafetyED.

SafetyED Deluxe Power Strip Cover

Toiletries, Medication, Spices, Knives and Other Sharp Objects, and Cleaners.  Toiletries, medications, knives, sharp objects, and cleaners present easily recognizable risks.  But who would think of spices?  I wouldn’t.  But I read an article about a four-year-old child who died from ground cinnamon he found in a cabinet at home.  He wanted to taste it.  In doing so, he inhaled it, which resulted in his death 90 minutes later.  Such a tragedy is easily preventable if you know it is a danger you can avoid.

Babyproofing items like toiletries, medications, spices, sharp items and cleaners is easy.  Either move them to where baby cannot reach or climb, or put cabinet and door babyproof locks on the areas where they are stored.  There are a variety of safety locks available. The main types are:

  • Magnetic locks: These safety latches are installed inside cabinets and drawers and use powerful magnets to keep them shut until a “key” unlocks them.
  • Adhesive strap locks: Using heavy-duty but removable adhesive, these locks can be used on a number of items from cabinets and drawers to appliances.
  • Spring-action locks: These traditional childproofing latches are installed inside of cabinets and released by holding the cabinet slightly ajar and pressing down on the latch simultaneously.
  • Slide locks: Designed for double-door cabinets, slide locks fit around adjacent knobs, tying them together until released by pushing two surfaces.

Whattoexpect.com has a great "best cabinet locks" list to help you find a lock solution that works well you.  

Doors.  Doors are the coolest for kids.  They open and shut.  They have knobs and hinges.  They have button locks to push and key holes.  There are neat things on the other side: cars, yards, toys, animals, fun places to go.  So, of course, they are a huge draw to toddlers.  But do you need to babyproof them?  Yep!

Every year, I hear a story on the news about a toddler who escapes the house on his or her own without the caregiver's knowledge.  And just outside your door there are tons of potential dangers: the elements, traffic, swimming pools, and balconies, to name a few.  But toddlers leaving the house unsupervised isn’t the only reason to babyproof doors.  Babyproofing front and back doors can guard against your child opening them to strangers without you knowing.  Controlling access within your home can keep your child from accessing areas that are unsafe without supervision - areas like furnace/utility rooms, bathrooms, rooms with a litter box.  Babyproofing can also protect against your child inadvertently locking him or herself in a room or crushing his or her little fingers between the door and its frame or the hinges.  Some parents also like the sense of safety they feel knowing their sleep-training toddler won’t get up and roam the house without parental knowledge.

When it comes to unwanted escape from front and back doors, you might consider installing deadbolts, security chains, or locks a child cannot reach or open.  The deadbolt or chain should be fixed above the door handle and high enough to ensure that children cannot reach the latch and unlock the door even if they find something to stand on, like a chair.  You just have to remember to keep them locked.  For a variety of locks and their reviews, click here.

For exterior or interior doors with round doorknobs, there are covers that fit over most standard-sized existing knobs.  

Door Knob Cover

A doorknob cover prevents a child from opening the door by making it more complicated to turn the knob.  (Think child-proof caps on medicine bottles.)  Different products utilize different methods to make it harder to turn the doorknob.  Usually they require whoever is opening the door to have larger hands, greater hand strength, or more dexterity than toddlers typically have.  Often, doorknob covers are made of heavy-duty plastic.  Some are made with BPA-free plastic or eco-friendly recycled material.   You can find them in several different colors as well.  Some have lock or keyhole covers, like the one in the picture above by Betertek.  Some don’t.  In addition to considering how it works, materials, and color, you might also consider your child's personality traits/strengths/skills.  Mine, for example, catches on to “tricks” pretty quickly and can somehow come up with bypasses that would impress even MacGyver.   For a list of top doorknob covers, click here.

Doors with lever-style handles are the easiest for little ones to open because they can be pulled down and opened by bodyweight alone.  Like doorknob covers, lever locks like this one from Safety 1st make it difficult for children to open the door. 

Safefty 1st Lever Handle Lock

For a list of top lever locks, click here

You can also limit access to interior doors by installing a lock at the top of the door, such as this one by Safety Innovations:

Door Top Childproofing Lock

A door top lock is a good childproofing solution for doors with lever handles, large oversized handles or unusual shaped handles as well as doors with standard handles. The lock rests on the top of your door, a small peg mounts into the door frame and the lock slides around the peg to lock and release. Because it rests on the top of the door, it is out of a child’s reach and sight.   

Sliding doors are also babyproofable.  To prevent full-speed collisions, consider putting decals on the door at toddler level.  To prevent unsupervised escapes, consider installing a childproof lock.  The Cardinal Gates Patio Door Guardian (Model PDG), pictured below, is recognized as “one of the best new child safety products” by the National Safe Kids Campaign.   

Cardinal Gates Patio Door Guardian Lock

This lock is installed using the included hardware at the top of the door, ensuring that children cannot reach and unlock it.  It also has a feature that allows your door to stay open up to a maximum of 3” for ventilation.  You should still lock the regular lock as well. 

Another type of protection attaches to the sliding door itself, like this Sliding Glass Door Child Lock by OKEFAN.  

OKEFAN Sliding Glass Door Child Lock

This lock is installed beside door shelf.  It creates a block that precludes the door from opening.  You bypass and activate the block using the buttons. To install it, simply clean the working area for this lock, peel off 3M tape, and stick it onto the desired location of sliding door. 

Lastly, you may want to consider anti-pinch devices, which serve a double duty of ensure your pets can access and leave a room.   A pinch guard is essentially a piece of foam or plastic shaped like the letter U.  It easily clips around the hinged side or lock side of a door to prevent little fingers from getting caught.

Safety 1st Finger Pinch Guard

There are a variety of anti-pinch options out there, such as those found here.

Additionally, you can avoid pinches (and unwanted locking) with a product known as The Door Monkey.

The Door Monkey

This type of child-proof door locking device simply clips on to the door and grips the door frame, locking the door in a slightly open position. This allows air to circulate and small pets to pass into the room that’s off-limits, but not toddlers or children.  There are buttons on either side of the portion that connects to the door itself, which allow its removal.

For additional recommendations regarding door childproofing products, click here

Stairs.  Persistent babies may easily figure out how to crawl up stairs, but often they have no idea how to crawl down.  Unfettered access to stairs puts them at risk for tumbles.   And those tumbles can have serious consequences.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, stairs are one of the 10 most common sources of injury for toddlers and small children.  According to the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, between 1999 and 2008, stairs resulted in emergency room visits for more than 900,000 children under age 5. Most of these children suffered head and neck injuries.

A properly-installed baby gate will hamper your curious child’s access to stairs even when you are not watching.  Before purchasing, research, research, research.  In addition to safety, consider ease of use (this can be good and bad), the width of your stairs, the esthetics of your home.  No single baby proofing product is perfect for every parent’s situation., and this is true of baby gates.  

There are some common fundamentals though.  Gates should be placed at the top and bottom of stairways.  Avoid pressure and tension gates, which can be pushed out of place.  Also, the best safety gates:

  • Screw into the wall
  • Have no openings wider than one-half inch
  • Are at least 22 inches high

For a list of the best baby gates in 2020, click here.  

TIP: As your baby grows, do not overlook the fact that he or she is constantly learning.  That includes learning how to latch and unlatch the baby gate - even those that are hard to open.  In fact, around the age of 2.5, our son managed to unlock our top-of-the-line, hard-to-open baby gate and tumble down the stairs.  Thankfully, he was fine, but it was terrifying for both of us!

To further babyproof your stairs, be sure to keep them free of clutter, install hand railings if there aren't any, and actively teach your child how to use them.

Decor.  I know parents who remove every movable object, wrap every corner (both of furniture and walls) and create the safest bubble possible.  And I know parents who take a more moderate approach.  The extent to which you modify decor will be a risk assessment call personal to you, but the primary concern remains the safety of your child.  Heavy objects can fall and cause injury, glass and other breakables can cut as well as strike, certain plants can poison your child if he or she nibbles on their leaves.  Put them out of reach, gate them off, or remove them temporarily from your home.

Also, if there is something really dear to you, I suggest you move it to out of reach.  Between curious examinations (to include dismemberment), spit ups/vomit, diaper blowouts, sticky fingers, smuggled food items, and markers, even your precious nonbreakables are at risk to unintentional, innocent destruction. 

Fireplaces, Fire Pits,  and Wood-burning Stoves.   According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves or other fuel-fired appliances to heat their homes.  Add to that the number of outdoor fire pits and Solo stoves enjoyed many families (including mine).  Fireplaces and stoves are filled with logs and ash (or gas) when not in use.   When in use, they are bright, pretty, oh-so-attractive, and require cool tools for poking and moving flaming logs and embers.  So, of course, kiddos love exploring them.

To babyproof interior fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, consider fencing them off with baby gates designed for fireplaces and hearths.  Many of these will screw into the walls or hearth and have special childproof gates for accessing and tending the fire.  For a list of the top fireplace baby gates, click here.  Use sturdy portable gates to block off outdoor firepits and always be mindful of your little one's whereabouts when using an outdoor firepit.  For additional tips on how to babyproof your indoor or outdoor fireplace or wood-burning stove, check out this article by Lucie's List.  You can also read this article by Parent Guide.  Both contain product guides as well.

Water.  According to the CDC, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury.  Approximately two children a day die from it.  Those who drown and survive can suffer from severe brain damage and long-term disabilities.  Even a small amount of water can cause drowning.  In fact, a baby can drown in just 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of water.  Water can also burn a child.  Consequently, you will want to guard against both.

If you have a pool, hot tub or natural water body on your property, click here for babyproofing tips from the Mayo Clinic.

You can babyproof against drowning in your home by keeping unsupervised children out of bathrooms and kitchens and any other location where they have access to water.  You can do so using doorknob covers, The Door Monkey, and baby gates as well as potentially by shutting or locking the doors to these rooms. 

When it comes to bath time, never leave your child unsupervised in the bathtub (or any other body of water) - even if they can swim.   Do not fill the tub so high your child starts to float, rather than sit firmly in the tub.  A child’s buoyancy will depend on his or her weight.  The less a child weighs, the less amount of water you should use to fill the tub.  Tip:  Install an anti-slip bath mat inside the tub as well as outside it, and encourage your child to stay seated during bathtime play.  You might also install a spout cover to avoid any injuries.  We use this cute whale set up by Skip Hop Moby.

Skip Hop Moby Bath Set

Toilets present another danger.  Toddlers can fall into them and drown.  You can also protect against that (and avoid massive, rather germy messes), by installing toilet seat locks like this one from 4ourKiddies

Baby Proofing Toilet Lock [2 Pack] Upgraded Gapless Pallet Mechanism for Child Safety, Universal Fit for Most Toilet Lid, Toolless 3M Adhesive Intallation with No Damage to Toilet.

Toilet seat locks lock the toilet seat cover in place.  For a review of 2020's top 10 toilet seat locks and quick links for purchase, click here

Additionally, it is recommended you store buckets and bowls and any other item that can collect water in a secure location a child cannot reach or access.

Baby in Buckeet

Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash.

To avoid hot water burns, set your hot water heater to 120 degrees F.  You should also turn your pot handles away from the edge of the stove to make it harder for a toddler to inadvertently tip a pot (and its hot contents) on to him or her.

Additional Resources.  See the full list of child-safety home devices recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information.

To help you identify potential hazards in need of babyproofing, check out these lists from the American Academy of Pediatrics and KidsHealth.org.  The link o KidsHealth.org also includes hotlinks to safe buying guides.

Also, this very thorough article by theBump.com has not only checklists, but some great additional considerations (fire and carbon monoxide alarms, a landline, an emergency number list, non-slip rug pads, etc.) as well as room-by-room pictures you can refer to.  It also links to the Bump’s own check list.  Additionally, check out http://www.charlieshouse.org/ for child safety information.

Lastly, making your home safe for baby doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Babyproofing kits can make it easy.   For a list of well-reviewed babyproofing kits in 2020, click here.  Additionally, if all this seems like too much, consider outsourcing your babyproofing needs by hiring an expert.  To find an expert babyproofer near you, click here

Once babies start roaming, life gets so much more interesting.  And so much fun!!!  Their curiosity is nature’s way of teaching them the ways of the world and their delight is contagious.  Encourage it, participate in it, and enjoy it after doing your best to make your home (and those of any caregivers) as safe as possible.  Good luck and cheers to this exciting stage! 

Article Cover Phot Credit: Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

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