Babies learn by exploring the world; they begin by touching and tasting every object within reach around two months of age, then advance to opening drawers and pulling up in the second half of the first year. This desire to explore comes naturally, but it can put infants in harm's way. Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), injuries - including suffocation, accidental ingestion and falls-are a leading cause of death for babies each year. In June, Swedish furniture retailer IKEA recalled more than 30 million dressers after six toddlers were killed when the dressers tipped over; per the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), tipped-over furniture and televisions sets kill a child every two weeks. Many of these injuries are preventable. Here's a baby-proofing primer to help you get started.
Baby-proofing often brings to mind cabinet latches and outlet covers - both important - but anchoring dressers, bookcases and entertainment units to your walls may be the best place to start. Unanchored furniture is dangerous to babies and toddlers, and your baby will be pulling up before you know it. Some furniture retailers provide wall-mounting equipment, but if yours didn't, you can find braces, brackets or wall straps at the hardware store. Use an electronic stud finder ($20 at hardware stores) to locate the best place to mount the furniture strap to the wall. If this chore is intimidating, hire a qualified handyman.
Baby essentials are pricey, and we all want to save a few bucks. But shop carefully at thrift stores, consignment shops and garage sales; a CPSC study found that 70 percent of resale shops contained at least one product that was hazardous. Check the CPSC website or call 1-800-638-CPSC for current information and to join their mailing list for up-to-date news about recalls. And a used car seat may not be such a bargain; an older car seat may be nearing expiration (check the date printed on the manufacturer's sticker) and there's no way to know whether the seat has been in a car accident, which renders the seat unsafe for use.
Burns, falls and shocks
Before bringing baby home, set your water heater's temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalding; bathe baby in water under 100 degrees. It's never too early to begin teaching your baby not to touch burners, radiators and wall heaters - infants over six months can begin to understand "hot" and "not for touching."
When shopping for a baby gate, consider where it will be used. A simple pressure-mounted gate can work to block hallways and at the bottom of stairs; for the top of a stairway, use a screw-mounted gate.
Move cords, power strips, and chargers off the floor; power strips and charging units can be secured to a wall out-of-reach placed on a countertop out of baby's reach. Inexpensive plastic plugs can block electrical outlets, or newer screw-mounted wall plates block outlets when not in use, so no plug is needed.
Cleaning products, self-care items like lotions and shampoos and medicines should be stored in latched cabinets or up out of baby's reach. If swallowed, button batteries (pencil-eraser-size disks that power small electronics) can corrode children's lungs, and strong magnets can create intestinal blockage; both need to be kept out of curious infants' reach. Store them in a locked cabinet or drawer, or consider doing without them for now. For more information about keeping your baby safe at home, visit cpsc.gov or the National Safety Council at nsc.org.
Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."