Whether you’re the guest of honor at a baby shower, the lucky recipient of hand-me-downs, or a whiz at garage sale shopping, there’s no way around it: Your baby is bound to build a stash of toys. That’s a good thing, because the right toy can help boost your baby’s development from birth onward. Case in point: Toys can help develop your newborn’s ability to visually track objects; later in infancy, toys can help foster spatial reasoning and motor skills like grasping, stacking, and moving objects from one hand to the other. But when it comes to safety, not all toys are created equal. Read on for tips on choosing safe toys for your little one.

Bits and pieces

Marbles, jacks, Lego, doll accessories and bouncy balls: Particularly for families with older siblings, many playrooms are chock-full of toys that can pose a choking hazard to a little one. Before giving a toy the green light, ensure that it’s not small enough to put a baby in danger. Playthings should be at least 1 ¼ inches in diameter and 2 ¼ inches long in order to be too large to become lodged in the windpipe. A specially sized “choke tube” can provide a “too-small” test to determine whether a toy is safe: If a toy can pass through the tube, it’s too small to give to a baby or small child (a toilet paper roll can serve a similar purpose).

Vintage vogue

Vintage toys are trending, big time: According to the Toy Industry Association Inc., the retro toy trend of the past several years is still going strong. That means parents may be tempted to dig out vintage toys from their own childhood — think wooden blocks, rocking horses or that well-loved Raggedy Ann doll. But many vintage toys have not been evaluated for today’s safety standards. Small parts may pose a choking hazard, well-worn pieces may break, and any toy made before 1978 may contain lead paint, per children’s health system Nemours.

String things

That adorable knit octopus would look snappy in your baby’s nautical-themed nursery — but first, make sure that its tentacles aren’t long enough to cause internal problems should baby chew them. Strings on toys (this includes doll hair) should be shorter than 7 inches. Additionally, all soft toys should be looked over for sewn-on details like button eyes or other decorations that may become dislodged by a determined baby.

Batteries not included

Babies love brightly colored, musical playthings, many of which require batteries. But batteries themselves are hazardous to curious infants: Chewing or ingesting a battery can lead to choking, chemical burns, and poisoning. Any battery-operated toy should feature a battery compartment that secures with a screw and can’t be pried open by tiny fingers.

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.

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