Injury is the leading cause of death among children in Canada. Some of the biggest dangers to babies are falls, burns or scalds, drowning, choking, suffocation or strangulation, and car crashes. The good news is that these injuries are almost always entirely preventable.
Parents can take steps to protect their new baby by:
- Recognizing everyday risks early, and taking precautions.
- Anticipating a baby’s new skills, and being prepared.
- Paying special attention at extra busy times of day.
- Actively supervising.
The best way to prevent injury is to watch, listen and stay nearby. When you have to move away from your baby, put him in a safe place, like his crib.
- Your infant can’t lift her head until she is about 4 months old, when her neck muscles are stronger, and then only for a short time. She can’t avoid conditions or objects that make it hard for her to breathe.
- Your infant can squirm and move along a surface long before she can turn over by herself. Even a newborn can wriggle enough to fall off the change table, bed or sofa.
- Your infant can grasp and shake things, reach for dangling objects, wave a fist and push down firmly with his legs—and fast enough to knock hot or sharp things from your hand.
Before you bring your baby home
- Make sure your crib has a permanent label with detailed manufacturing information, instructions and a warning statement about mattress size and proper use. Never use a crib that is missing this label, or one made before 1987.
- Check that all the crib bars are present and secure.
- The mattress should be firm, flat and fit tight within the crib frame. Sheets are smooth and tight-fitting as well.
- Corner posts shouldn’t be higher than 3 mm (1/8 inch) above the end panels.
- The frame must be solid, with no cut-out designs or openings where a baby could catch her head.
- Crib sides should lock securely in place when raised.
- Mattress support hangers must be secured by bolts and closed hooks. Don’t use a crib where these hooks are “Z” or “S”-shaped.
- Be sure to check for loose fittings regularly, especially whenever the crib is moved.
- Place the crib away from windows, window coverings and blind cords.
- Do not use bumper pads, pillows, lambskins, quilts, stuffed toys or comforters in the crib.
- Hang mobiles out of reach of your infant’s hands and fasten them securely to both sides of the crib.
- Don’t use a bassinet or cradle. Even an infant’s weight and movement can make them tip or collapse.
- Make sure that shelving or any heavy furniture is anchored securely to the wall.
- Install a smoke alarm in your baby’s room and check all the household smoke alarms to be sure they are working.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
Once baby is home, your precautions and behaviour will help protect her against the most common types of injury.
- Never leave your infant unattended, or in a carrier on any raised surface, such as a bed, sofa or change table.
- Make sure your change table has a guard rail and safety strap, and always use them.
- If the phone rings while you are changing a diaper, take your baby with you to answer it or just let it ring.
- Store everything you need to change a baby within easy reach, so you don’t have to turn away.
- Make sure your baby sling or front carrier is appropriate for your baby’s age and size. It should support her head and shoulders and have small leg openings, so she can’t slip out. If you bend over, hold your baby against you with one hand so she won’t fall.
Burns or scalds
- Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home and in every sleeping area. Check alarms once monthly to be sure they are working, and change the batteries twice each year, when you change the clocks in the spring and fall.
- Do not allow smoking in your home. Many house fires are caused by careless smoking or children playing with smoking materials such as lighters and matches. Also, cigarettes and butts are poisonous to young children.
- Set your hot water heater temperature to 49°C (120°F), or put an anti-scald device on your faucets. A baby’s skin burns very easily.
- Before bathing, check the water temperature with your elbow or wrist. It should feel warm, not hot. Bathe your baby away from the faucets, and remove him from the tub before running the hot water again.
- Never carry a baby and a hot drink at the same time.
- Use plastic mats instead of a table cloth that your baby might pull on and cause a spill of hot liquid.
- Don’t heat breast milk or formula in a microwave. Dangerous “hot spots” can burn an infant’s mouth. Warm a bottle in a pot of hot water instead, and test the milk on your wrist before feeding.
- An infant can drown—very quickly and quietly—in as little as 5 cm (2 inches) of water. Always watch and have at least one hand on your baby when she’s in the bathtub, wading pool or near any standing water.
- Have everything you need for bathing at hand, so that you never have to turn away.
- Don’t use a bath seat or ring. They are not safe.
- Never leave your baby alone in the bath with a brother or sister, even for a few seconds.
- Do not use a cell phone during bath time. If you must answer the telephone, take baby with you.
Choking, suffocation or strangulation
You can use an empty toilet paper roll to test for choking hazards in your home. If an item is small enough to pass through it, it’s a choking hazard.
If your baby uses a soother, make sure it’s one piece with a shield to prevent him from sucking the nipple too far into his mouth. Discard any soother that shows signs of wear or is more than 2 months old.
In your baby’s crib:
- Keep soft materials out of your baby’s crib. Items that shouldn’t be in the crib include quilts, comforters, bumper pads, pillows or stuffed animals. Keep the crib away from window blind or cords.
- Remove your crib mobile when your baby is 4 months old or when he starts pushing himself up on his hand and knees.
When awake and at play:
- Vacuum often, and never leave small objects within your baby’s reach. He will put anything and everything in his mouth.
- Don’t keep toys with pull strings longer than 20 cm (8 inches) or toys that have small, loose or breakable parts that your baby could swallow or inhale.
- Don’t use bibs with ties.
- Don’t hang pacifiers, a necklace or anything else around your baby’s neck that might catch and strangle her. Use a clip with a short ribbon attached to your baby’s soother instead.
- Keep all plastic bags or wrapping out of reach and out of sight.
- Latex balloons are a choking hazard and shouldn’t be used anywhere near where your baby plays.
- Avoid clothing with drawstrings at the neck or waist. For winter wear, use a neck warmer instead of a scarf and mitten clips instead of strings.
- Keep magnets, even toy magnets that are small enough to be swallowed, away from your baby. They can be extremely dangerous. If your baby swallows two or more magnets they can attract to one another even through your baby’s intestinal walls and become trapped in her body, causing serious injury. Jewelry magnets should be kept in a locked drawer or high out of reach.
All infants need a rear-facing car seat for their first ride home from the hospital. Your baby will use this seat whenever you travel-- even the shortest distance-- for one year or longer. Infants may use a forward-facing car seat once they are at least one year old and at least 10 kg, however it is best to rear-face as long as possible, so look for a car seat with the highest rear-facing weight and length limits once your child has outgrown their first car seat.
- Install the car seat in the middle of the rear seat—never in the front or near an airbag.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the car seat and follow all age, height and weight specifications.
- Secure the car seat using the Universal Anchorage System (UAS or LATCH), which is now mandatory in all car models. Follow both the car seat and car manual instructions. If the UAS system does not secure the seat adequately, then use the seat belt, as indicated in the car seat instructions.
- Check that the car seat does not move more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) forward or from side to side once it is installed.
- Harness straps should be threaded just at or below your baby’s shoulders. The chest clip should be at armpit level and the harness should fit snugly.
- Tuck a blanket around your baby if needed instead of using a bunting bag.
- Don’t use a car seat that has been in a car crash, even a minor one. It is not safe.
- Never leave your baby unattended in a car, even to run a quick errand.
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Injury Prevention Committee
Last updated: March 2009