Few things make your little one’s upcoming arrival feel quite as real as peeking through the doorway to a new nursery. Maybe it used to be a spare bedroom, or an office, or a storage space, but now here it is ― a cozy environment where the newest member of your family can sleep and play. Whether extravagant or minimalist, a safe nursery can be created for any budget and style with the following tips.

Safe sleep environments are key

Even if you haven’t been able to prepare anything else for baby’s arrival, a safe place for him or her to sleep―such as a crib, bassinet, or playpen ― is vital. Buying new is preferable when possible, as all new cribs meet federal safety standards.

Follow these basic guidelines for cribs to help prevent injuries, entrapment, strangulation and suffocation:

  • All slats should be securely fastened, with no more than 2 3/8” (60mm) between slats
  • Corner posts should be less than 1/16” (1.5mm) high
  • Use only lead-free paint on cribs
  • Be sure all screws and bolts are securely tightened
  • Avoid cribs with drop-down sides
  • Choose a firm mattress that fits snugly into the frame

Decorations should inspire, not injure

Let’s be honest, decorating the nursery is the fun part! Pick out sheets in your favorite pattern, but leave the bumper pads in the box. Hang baby’s new handmade quilt on the wall, and line up stuffed animals on a shelf. The crib should be a place for baby and nothing else! Any extra items in the crib, including blankets and pillows, can pose a risk of suffocation. In addition, keep any mobiles or other hanging toys out of baby’s reach. Find some cute coordinating window treatments, but make sure they are cordless, or at minimum, tie up the cords where a toddler can’t get to them.

Sweet babies turn into rambunctious toddlers!

Look around the nursery―anything below waist-level is fair game for older infants and toddlers. Outlets can seem like a great place to stick little fingers, so cover them up, either with outlet covers or by blocking them with furniture. Keep lotions, diaper creams, and medicines out of reach or in locked cabinets or drawers to prevent poisoning. Once babies have finished exploring the floor of their nursery, the next place to go is up! Make sure furniture is anchored to the wall when possible to prevent tipping as babies practice pulling up to stand. Avoid free-standing lamps, which could also tip. Many toddlers are avid climbers, so it is best to keep furniture away from windows. Window guards/stops also are a good idea to keep toddlers from being able to open a window and thus to avoid a more serious fall.

Home safety extends beyond the nursery

Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in or near each bedroom, and check the batteries regularly. If you live in a multi-level house, consider baby gates at the top and/or bottom of the stairs once your baby becomes more mobile. Baby gates also can be useful in doorways to block access to rooms you may not have had time to child-proof yet.

In general, whether you are taking advantage of that nesting instinct or embracing your inner interior designer, enjoy getting the nursery ready for your little bundle of joy! The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ( and the International Association for Child Safety ( both have lots of good safety information as well as other resources to help you out, and as always, your child’s pediatrician also can answer any other questions you might have.

Eleanor Eichman, MD, is a pediatrician at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

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