Planning a nursery can be overwhelming. All of the gear. All of the information. All of the nursery safety rules. All of it with a curious, creative baby on the move. Fortunately, with just a few key measures, you can put together a safe nursery — and the process doesn’t need to be complicated. (Phew.)
Where to start? In short, some solid nursery safety products, smart thinking, and — of course — always keeping your eyes on your child. “Never under-estimate the little ones,” says Amy Fan, M.D., a pediatrician and founder of Kinder, an online pediatric clinic. “Think like a curious and growing child, and assume they will always be looking for ways to climb onto and over things, explore every crook and cranny, with endless enthusiasm and creativity.”
As for the nursery safety gear you’ll need? Consider this your go-to nursery safety guide.
Even heavy furniture has a way of toppling over — something that can (obviously) be dangerous for your child. That’s why experts like Elizabeth Peña, health education specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital suggest securing furniture to a wall — and if it’s on the second floor of a home, not placing it near a window. You can anchor furniture with L-brackets or safety straps, says McKenzie. You can also order furniture wall straps. It’s important to take this cautionary step throughout your home, not just as you set up your nursery.
Toy Bins and Shelves
You’ll want to avoid storage with heavy lids or lids that aren’t easily opened. Better yet, just skip the lids and pay attention to how you arrange items on shelves. “Parents forget to stack shelves smartly,” Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator for the Center for Injury Research and Policy, tells SheKnows. She recommends placing heavy items on lower shelves to make a bookcase, for instance, more stable.
It’s no surprise that once your baby is on the move (or able to reach for something nearby) they’re going to try to put just about everything in their mouth. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the toys you have in a nursery won’t pose a potential risk. “If you have toys, ensure they are soft and not hard and pass a small parts test: Nothing smaller than what can fit through a toilet or paper towel roll to avoid choking hazards,” says Peña. “Also, no toys with button batteries.” These can easily come out and become a choking hazard.
In 2018, the Window Covering Manufacturing Association announced a ban of corded blinds. But that doesn’t mean cords were automatically eliminated from homes across the country. “Snip the cord to get rid of a dangerous loop that can cause strangulation,” says McKenzie. “Use a cord-shortener to keep the cords high up and out of the child’s reach.”
If you don’t want to cut or replace your window treatments, simply add inexpensive cord cleats to the nearby wall. Wrap the cords around the cleats to keep them tucked up and out of the way.
Electrical Outlet Plugs
The little plastic prongs that go into electrical outlets so that little fingers can’t are a smart and inexpensive investment in your nursery (and your whole home’s) safety. Get extra plugs so that when some (inevitably) go missing you’ll have backups. If you want to be even more thorough, you can install outlet covers that conceal the outlet and still allow cords to be plugged in — without worrying that your little one can do any damage.
A Safe Crib
The American Academy of Pediatrics is the best place to start when it comes to infant safe-sleep recommendations but there are some general takeaways that you’ll want to pay attention to as you build a safe nursery. For one, make sure your crib meets current government safety standards. The slats shouldn’t be more than 2-3/8 inches apart. “A crib manufactured after 2011 will meet the latest safety standards and recommendations,” notes McKenzie. The mattress also needs to be firm and nothing should be added to the crib (read: no pillows, blankets, bumpers, or toys), says Peña.
If you’re worried about your baby getting cold, you can use a wearable blanket or sleep sack, per the AAP. In terms of set up, make sure wires and any loose materials are away from the sides of the crib and don’t place the crib near a window or within grabbing distance of curtains. And remember: never hang heavy items like mirrors over your baby’s crib.
A Baby Gate or Play Yard
It’s nice to have a place to put your baby so that they can play safely, especially once they’re mobile. Portable play yards can be set up anywhere and some can enclose an area with barriers only (no floor). If you’re using a play yard without a bottom just be sure that the floor is completely free of any choking hazards. Also, if your baby’s room is at the top or bottom of a set of stairs, use a baby gate.
A Fire Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Monitor
The Onelink by First Alert Environment Monitor can detect high-level and low-level carbon monoxide as well as keep track of a room’s temperature and humidity. And it’s Wi-Fi-enabled. But a basic smoke-fire-carbon-monoxide alarm will also do the trick, like this one by Kidde.
“Overheating can be a risk factor for SIDS,” Syeda Amna Husain, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in Marlboro, New Jersey, tells SheKnows. “The ideal and safest temperature range is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.” She recommends central air conditioning and heating but a ceiling fan could work too. One 2008 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that sleeping under a ceiling fan was linked with a 72 percent reduction in SIDS risk.
A Video Monitor
Want to keep tabs on temps in your baby’s room? Just feel peace of mind from being able to see (and hear) them while you’re a few rooms away? Video monitors can provide both peace of mind and, well, extra monitoring. “Oftentimes video monitors have a temperature sensor that can read the room’s temperature and show it on the monitor,” says Dr. Husain. Infant Optics is one of these brands.
An eco-friendly can of paint can help you avoid harmful chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from being emitted in the nursery. There are plenty of baby-safe paints on the market now, and many can be found at big-box stores like Home Depot. You’ll want a water-based, lead-free, zero-VOC formula. Some brands that make nursery-safe paint include Milk Paint, Valspar, and Sherwin-Williams. But don’t stress too much. “Nowadays, almost all paint is safe and non-toxic in the form of lead ingestion,” says Dr. Husain. While at one time, the usual sources of lead poisoning were lead paint and leaded gasoline, now, more unusual sources of lead poisoning include jewelry, cosmetics, imported herbal and traditional medicines, and even hobby supplies.“Most paints for indoor use are very safe to use,” she says. But water-based ones can be easier on the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract than some solvent-based or oil-based paints.
Corner Guards and Cabinet Locks
Protect your little one from sharp corners — because your baby will probably bump into them at some point — with soft, cushioned corner guards. And while you’re at it, secure any cabinets or drawers your little one shouldn’t get into with locks. There are a variety of cabinet locks available — from magnet-and-key locks to sliding locks that go around the cabinet hardware — so you can pick the ones that best match your lifestyle and your design aesthetic.
An Area Your Baby Can’t Reach
Keeping items like bottle warmers, humidifiers or vaporizers in the nursery? “Make sure none of these items are within reach of your child,” says Dr. Husain. They should be put up high, too — on a high shelf or dresser, for example — to prevent the risk of burns or injuries, she notes.
A Simple Theme
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly a product suggestion but especially in today’s consumer market, less is more, experts say. “We already know the crib should be free of loose blankets, toys, and anything that’s not tightly wrapped around the baby. I think the same applies to the nursery in general,” says Dr. Fan. “I think having too many things can sometimes be distracting and make it easier to accidentally leave something in the wrong place.” A good rule of thumb? Make sure items in the nursery have a specific purpose, she says. Not sure what that purpose is? Consider taking it out.
A version of this article was published in April 2017. Additional reporting by Cassie Shortsleeve.
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