independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Here comes baby - how to childproof your home

Eva Montague eyes freedom from behind the safety of a baby-proof gate.

Every new baby is a future intrepid explorer. He's Christopher Columbus and your home is America.

Last week I caught my two-year-old daughter climbing the bookcase. Like any good parent I panicked, roared, and spent the rest of the day cursing myself for not having thrown out the bookcase -- which is silly. You don't need to throw everything out once the baby arrives. There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your growing child's safety in the home.

The best way to begin to baby proof your house is to get down on your hands and knees. See what your child sees. This ground level appraisal is one which will need to be repeated at regular intervals as your baby grows into a toddler and onwards. What once was out of reach for a 15-month-old swiftly becomes accessible to a three-year-old.

"The kitchen is definitely the most treacherous room. It's designed for grown-ups and not for children. It's full of things which attract their attention, from flexes hanging down to those scissors you've left just within reach," says mother-of-three Dr Bernadette Carr, Medical Director with Vhi Healthcare.

"Last year Vhi Healthcare paid out €8.26m for domestic accidents and €5m for falls. Accidents in the home represent the bulk of the claims, highlighting the need for us all to take care, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom areas."

In your kitchen, begin by installing latches or locks on the fridge, dishwasher and oven. There are a variety of latches and many of these don't even require drilling. Once the latches are in place see if you are able to pull them off. You'd be surprised how strong a determined toddler can be. Place safety catches on all cupboards and cabinets at the lower levels in the bathroom and kitchen, and keep all bleaches, cleaning products and medicines out of reach. An oven or stove guard will protect against burnt fingers, and saucepans should be used with the handles facing inwards.

Knives and other sharp objects need to be placed in higher cupboards and appliances left unplugged when not in use. While it's great fun to cook with your child, once the mess is over keep stools and chairs out of reach so the child can't hoist themselves up. Most domestic fires start in the kitchen. Having a fire extinguisher and fire blanket will substantially reduce the risk of fire spreading.

Children under five cannot be left unsupervised in the bathroom, even for a minute. Young children's heads are heavier than the rest of their bodies, making them prone not only to falling over but also to drowning in only a few inches of water. Many develop a fascination with flushing the toilet so some experts recommend investing in a lid-lock. Anti-scald devices can also be installed on taps.

It's a good idea to buy a cordless phone. This ensures you will never be tempted to leave your baby unattended in any part of the house.

If your home has a stairwell put stair gates both at the top and no more than three steps from the bottom. It's also worth placing gates at the entrance to the kitchen and the bathroom.

They are easy to install and come in a range of styles and sizes so need not detract from the overall look of your home. The ideal gate is a wall-mounted one, which is easily screwed directly into the doorframe or wall. It is also possible to buy spring-loaded gates, which don't require any drilling, but these are not as secure.

Any self-respecting toddler will become fond of using the gate as a swing or climbing frame so it's worth installing them properly the first time.

Babies and toddlers are rather partial to stuffing their fingers or their toys into plug sockets. There are several measures you can take to prevent electrocution. Firstly, install safety covers on all unused outlets. Secondly, place large pieces of furniture or other obstacles in front of those that are in regular use.

If you have a fireplace use a large fireguard, preferably one that fixes to the wall. About 50 people die in Ireland each year as a result of preventable fires in the home, with the most at risk being the under 12s and over 60s. Keep a fire extinguisher close by and place all matches and lighters out of reach.

You can buy little rubber or foam bumpers designed to protect children from the sharp or hard corners of furniture and fireplaces. Doorstops or holders will safeguard against injuries to fingers from both the door and the hinges.

Another easy way to do this is to place a folded towel over the top of the door. If your home has sliding glass doors put stickers or transfers at adult and child eye level to prevent them becoming "invisible". Place non-slip pads under rugs and mats which don't already have non-slip backs.

Many of the ornaments you had on display pre-baby will need to be re-homed until your child is older. A helpful guide for deciding what to keep and what to put away is this; if an object fits through a toilet roll holder then it's too small to be around a baby.

Glass top tables are a hazard for children of all ages. Brackets can be used to secure bookcases, chests of drawers and other 'climbable' furniture.

Wall mounted television brackets can give way unexpectedly so these will need to be routinely checked for security.

Don't underestimate the time a child needs to climb out an open window. Even the most 'sensible' of toddlers will take a notion to climb. Install window guards and locks and check these frequently to make sure they are secure.

There should be no more than four inches between the bars of the window guard, and low windows should not open more than five inches.

At least one window in each room needs to be accessible for escape in the event of a fire.

Cut the cords or install tension devices on window blinds as these pose a serious risk from strangulation. Keep furniture and other possible climbing structures away from windows.

Cots need to be positioned away from windows, lamps, decorations, heaters, cords, and furniture.

Cot bars should be less than 45-65 mm apart, roughly the width of a soft drinks can.

If your cot is an older, painted version then strip it and re-paint it with lead-free paint.

Ensure the mattress fits snugly with no gaps and avoid using a pillow. Bumper pads should be removed once the baby gets more active.

If you don't already have them, smoke alarms need to be installed upstairs and downstairs. Don't rely on the alarm 'beeping' to let you know when the battery needs changing, make changing it an annual occurrence.

If your home is gas or oil heated or you have an attached garage, a Carbon Monoxide Detector (CO) placed outside bedrooms will help to prevent CO poisoning.

Babies and toddlers will put anything in their mouths. Your garden may look like a world of edible wonders to them, but quite a few innocuous looking house or garden plants have the potential to cause dermatitis or, even worse, poisoning.

Rhododendron, azalea, calla lily, delphinium, foxglove, lily of the valley, wisteria, hydrangea, chrysanthemum, narcissus, potato and rhubarb are just some of the plants that need to be avoided.

Plants with bright, shiny berries are similarly often dangerous. Indoor plants should be placed out of reach.

Once your baby is mobile review your safety features every few months. Not only will potential dangers have changed but your ingenious child may have worked out how to outsmart some of the precautions you have in place.

Of course it goes without saying that the most effective precaution against dangers in the home is parental supervision. However, that is easier said than done and there isn't a parent in Ireland who hasn't taken their eye off the ball for a second, and that's all it takes for a child to do something unexpected.

Effective child-proofing will go a long way to affording you peace of mind, at least when your explorer is at home.

When it comes to child-proofing the big bad world, I'll be following Dorothy Parker's advice:

"The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant -- and let the air out of their tyres."

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