If you're bringing home a newborn, start your safety survey in the nursery. Your child—and you—will be spending a lot of time here.
Ideally, the crib is a place for blissful sleep. Well okay, we'll admit that the crib's not always a blissful place, especially when your baby won't go to sleep. But at least it should be comfortable and safe.
Unfortunately, however, cribs can be very dangerous. In the United States about 50 babies a year suffocate or strangle in cribs. This especially happens in used ones that aren't in good repair or may have been made with older, unsafe designs. It's best to buy a crib with a certification seal showing that it meets national safety standards. If you have a used one, there are ways to make sure it's safe. (For details, see Crib and Bed Safety.)
Never put your baby to sleep on her stomach. Babies who sleep on their backs have a much lower incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Between 1992 and 1998, the SIDS death rate plummeted by nearly 50 percent, thanks to a public education campaign by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups. Just remember the slogan—“Back to Sleep.”
Make sure the crib is not so near a window that, when your baby learns to stand, she could fall through it. To protect her from strangulation, keep the cords from blinds or curtains out of her reach or retrofit the cords with safety tassels. )
Also be careful what you put in the crib with the baby. Those soft, fluffy pillows and quilts may look adorable, but they aren't safe. Babies have suffocated when they fell asleep face-down on soft bedding. Blankets or quilts aren't necessary if you dress your baby in layers, including a blanket sleeper on cold nights. Put your baby to sleep on a firm crib mattress and save the money that you'd otherwise spend on fancy bedding.
Leave stuffed toys out of the crib, too. They can be a suffocation hazard for infants. Older babies plotting a crib escape can turn large stuffed animals into great step stools.
Tales from the Safety Zone
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has mounted a national campaign to promote “baby safety” showers for new and expectant mothers. They've been organized by community groups nationwide. Mothers receive written materials and participate in games and activities centered on a 12-point safety checklist. If you're planning a shower for a friend, consider making it a safety shower, or at least put some safety gifts on the wish list. These could include home safety devices, a first-aid book, and a gift certificate for a baby first-aid class. .
Bumper pads of cloth or vinyl are a good way to protect your baby from hitting against the side of the crib, but make sure you fasten the pad with snaps or straps tied on the outside of the crib so the baby can't reach them. To prevent strangulation, cut the ties so they are no longer than seven inches. Remove the bumper pad when the baby is able to stand up so it won't become a launching pad for climbing out.
Get in the habit of always putting up the side of the crib as soon as you put the baby in. If you turn your back for a second, she could fall out.
Babies, even little ones, have incredible energy and love to move about, especially, so it seems, when their diaper's being changed. Falls are most likely to happen when you're reaching for a fresh diaper or searching for a clean outfit. That's why the best changing tables are those that come with straps to secure baby. Even when strapped, a squirmy baby can fall, so don't leave her unattended. Also, keep diaper pins, ointment, and other changing essentials in your reach but out of baby's.
You don't really need a changing table at all. It's just one more thing that takes up space and costs money, and it will outlive its usefulness pretty fast. You can easily improvise with a changing pad on the floor for diaper changes. You can also use the crib by lowering the side and spreading a waterproof pad on top of the mattress. Just make sure you gather up the wipes, diaper, and clothes before you put the side down so you can keep your hand on the baby while you change her. If you have to leave for even a moment, put the side up first.