Believe it or not, even some devices that are supposed to protect children can actually put them at risk. Parents magazine examines products that are potentially dangerous, and provides easy solutions from experts.
Plastic outlet covers
The risk: Outlet covers help prevent your child from getting electrocuted, but small plastic plug-in models can pose a deadly choking hazard. Even if the caps seem to fit snugly, they tend to loosen with use — and a toddler could remove one and put it in her mouth.
Safe strategy: Get covers that screw into the wall and slide shut when outlets aren’t in use, or block unused outlets with furniture. The Home Safety Council recommends that if you use plug-in covers, you should look for ones that are too big to fit through a toilet-paper tube, or choose devices that you must twist or squeeze to remove (see above).
Bath seats and rings
The risk: They help your baby sit up in the bathtub, but if you leave him alone in one — even for a few seconds — he can drown. The seats, which typically stick to the tub with suction cups, have been blamed for 123 drownings since 1983, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The suction cups can suddenly release, causing your baby to tip over, or he could slide between the legs of the ring and become trapped underwater.
Safe strategy: Consider using a small plastic tub instead. Most important, though, always keep your baby within arm’s reach in the bath. “You should never leave a baby alone in the bath, even for a moment,” says Denise Dowd, M.D., an emergency-room pediatrician at Children’s Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, Mo.
The risk: Several models have been recalled because they pose a potential electrocution and fire hazard, and others have scorched furniture. “There have just been too many fires and reports of problems,” says consumer advocate Alan Fields, who advises against these products in his book “Baby Bargains.” “It’s an unnecessary risk for something most kids can do without.”
Safe strategy: If you use a warmer, follow the instructions carefully, especially if they recommend adding water. If it’s not brand-new, check cpsc.gov to make sure that the model hasn’t been recalled. The best solution? Just hold wipes in your hands for a few minutes to warm them up.
The risk: While these pads can keep your baby from bumping her head, they may be risky. “Once a baby is able to roll, she can press her face against a bumper and suffocate,” says Laura Reno, spokesperson for First Candle, a national SIDS nonprofit organization. Between 1985 and 2005, 11 infants were suffocated by a bumper pad, 13 died from being wedged between a bumper and another object, and three were strangled by a bumper tie. Older babies and toddlers can also use the pads to climb out of their cribs.
Safe strategy: Bumpers may make a crib look pretty, but it’s really best to avoid them. If you do decide to use them, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises choosing ones that are thin, firm and well-secured. Be sure to remove them once your child can roll or, at the latest, when he can stand up in his crib.
The risk: Kids get annoyed when their shoulder seat belt rides up too high, but seat-belt positioners may actually interfere with proper fit, warns the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “There is no safety standard for these add-on devices, and we discourage parents from using them,” says Sandy Sinclair, a safety specialist with the NHTSA.
Safe strategy: If your child is too short for a regular seat belt, he should be using a booster seat that has a built-in belt positioner. Experts recommend that children ride in a booster seat until they are 4' 9" or at least 8 years old.
Bed railsThe risk: They prevent young children from falling out of bed, but portable bed rails have caused the deaths of 18 children since 1990, according to the CPSC. Most were children under age 2 who got trapped in a gap between the bed rail and mattress. The CPSC recently revised the standards for the rails’ design, so that most new bed rails won’t pull away from the mattress and create a dangerous gap.
Safe strategy: Wait until your child is at least 2 and able to climb in and out of bed before using these. Use them only on full-size twin beds with a mattress and box spring, not on toddler beds or bunk beds. (Many toddler and bunk beds come with attached rails, which are safe.) Check every night to make sure that the rails are snug against the mattress.
Sleep positioners The risk: These foam cushions are marketed as a safe way to keep a baby on his back and reduce the risk of SIDS, but they could accidentally cause him to suffocate.
Safe strategy: The AAP and Consumer Reports urge parents to avoid positioners. “There’s no good reason to have one,” says Parents adviser Jennifer Shu, M.D. Once your baby is old enough and strong enough to roll over, he’s already at a lower risk of SIDS.
Syrup of ipecac
The risk: For years, doctors recommended keeping a bottle on hand to induce vomiting in case of poisoning. However, the AAP now advises against using ipecac because the latest research has found that vomiting may be dangerous. “Some toxic substances can cause more damage coming up than they do going down in the first place,” says Dr. Shu, co-author of “Heading Home With Your Newborn.”
Safe strategy: Throw out your ipecac, and keep potential poisons locked out of reach. If your child ingests something poisonous, call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222.
Baby rearview mirrors
The risk: Although it’s certainly comforting to be able to see your baby when he’s in a rear-facing car seat, some paramedics are worried that one of these mirrors, like other loose objects in a vehicle, could become a dangerous projectile in a crash. Models that attach to the rear-seat headrest with just a suction cup are particularly risky, according to Matt Levy, national director of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.
Safe strategy: Look for a mirror that’s lightweight, with cushioning or rounded edges. And make sure it’s tightly attached.