Expectant parents might look around their house and feel completely overwhelmed at the changes that should be made to keep a baby safe.
First time parents might even wonder — do I really have to baby-proof my home?
The answer is yes, a home should be baby-proofed ahead of a little one's arrival.
How to baby-proof your house
Experts told TODAY Parents that baby-proofing is more about following your intuition, and less about the latest safety product being marketed.
Dr. Karen Sheehan, Professor of Pediatrics and Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommended getting the things that could pose a risk (like fireplace tools, for instance) out of the room entirely.
“Having a safe space for kids to be means you’re not always having to say 'no,'” Sheehan told TODAY Parents. "Plus, they’re so fast that if you turn for a second, they can get into something they shouldn’t.”
Meghann Wellard, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Maryland, told TODAY Parents, “You can obviously go overboard, but some of it is just common sense.”
Wellard, a mom of three who worked in a pediatric emergency room prior to entering private practice, and Sheehan shared their top tips for new parents baby-proofing their homes.
1. Be familiar with the settings on your hot-water heater
To keep curious babies safe, Wellard suggests making sure that your hot-water heater is set to less than 120 degrees.
"Around 15 months, kids become fascinated with playing with knobs and turning things," says Wellard. "They get into the bathroom, turn on the hot water, and scald themselves. We saw so many burns in the emergency room caused by kids playing in bathrooms, but if the thermostat is set to less than 120 degrees, they can't do that. It's something easy that people just don't think of."
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the majority of injuries and deaths from tap-water scalds involve the elderly and children under the age of 5.
Both the CPSC and Wellard caution parents to remember that they should always be present with their children in the bathroom, as leaving your child unsupervised for any period of time could result in serious injury.
2. Keep bathrooms locked or secured at all times
"The bathroom is a huge area where injury can occur," warns Wellard. "Kids can drown in small amounts of water — even just a few inches."
Wellard says babies and toddlers are also drawn to playing in the toilet and to opening bathroom cabinets, which are often filled with harmful cleaners and medications.
The CPSC tells TODAY Parents that nearly 90 children drown inside American homes each year, making it important to keep bathroom doors locked and toilet covers secured with child-proof locks.
There will come a day when your toddler learns how to open a door using the door knob. And then it’s harder to keep them out of places they shouldn’t go.
The National Safety Council recommended using door knob covers to prevent this problem before it even starts.
3. Know how to keep baby's crib safe
The CPSC indicates that cribs and crib mattresses were associated with an annual average of 36 deaths per year between 2011-2013. And in 2015, there were an estimated 12,100 emergency-department-treated injuries to children younger than age 5 associated with cribs and crib mattresses.
To prevent injury, Wellard advises parents to be aware of the appropriate crib-rail height for their baby's age.
"Obviously when they're newborns, you can have the crib at the highest setting, but when they change developmentally — as soon as they can pull up, for example — you have to lower it to the lowest level because if not, they can pull up and launch themselves out of there," cautions Wellard.
And, Wellard reminds parents that objects placed in the crib with baby are a no-no.
"They don't need blankets and pillows — those become more of a hazard than anything," says Wellard, adding that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends absolutely nothing be in or near baby's crib. "No crib bumpers — even the breathable ones — because they can come off and get tangled up."
4. Keep an eye out for heavy objects around the home
Wellard says, around 6 months of age, babies start to move, roll and play on the floor more often. It's at this milestone that she tells parents to get on the ground with their babies.
"You need to lay on the floor and look from their point of view," explains Wellard. "You start saying, 'That cabinet that has all of those heavy things on it — maybe I should move them off, or make sure the cabinet is secure.'"
Wellard says by 9 months old, a baby will begin pulling up on furniture, leaving parents with the task of anchoring furniture to walls and removing heavy items like televisions and lamps from furniture surfaces.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that works to stop preventable injuries in infants and children, a child dies every three weeks from a television tipping over. And, over the last 10 years, a child has visited the emergency room approximately once every 45 minutes from injuries caused by a TV tipping over.
"We don't think about some of these things, but things happen in a split-second — even to the best of us," says Wellard.
5. Be cautious around electricity
From 2007-2009, the CPSC estimates that there was an annual average of 11 electrocution deaths per year in children ages 1-19.
"Around that 15-month age range, they become fascinated with putting things into things and they stick things in electric sockets," warns Wellard, suggesting that parents find tight-fitting electrical outlet covers that cannot be pulled out by baby's tiny fingers.
As big of a pain as it is to replace the cover, it’s far better than those individual outlet covers that plug in. If small enough, those individual covers can be a choking hazard if they got loose.
6. Don't forget about window blinds
"For some reason — as many times as you tell kids not to — they love to put things around their neck," says Wellard, cautioning parents to keep Venetian blind cords out of the reach of small children.
The CPSC asks parents to check window coverings in their home, replacing corded window coverings with safer cordless or inaccessible cord options, citing that approximately one child per month dies after becoming entangled in a window-covering cord.
Alarmingly, about two children per day go to the emergency room because of injuries involving window blind cords, according to 2017 research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Again, the ideal solution would be replacing current window treatments with cordless blinds, but as a faster or temporary fix these wraps keep cords up out of reach.
7. Create a small object tester
Wellard suggests creating a "small object tester" to help both parents and older siblings determine what objects must be kept out of baby's reach.
"Take an old toilet paper tube — if (the item) can fit in there, then it's a choking hazard and it can't be around the baby," says Wellard. "Look around your house for small objects — if you have older kids especially, then you have to be careful about small toys and things like Legos. Those should stay in an older child's bedroom."
8. Use gates around stairs
Wellard also tells parents to use caution around stairways, placing safety gates at the tops of stairs, or closing and locking doors that lead to stairwells.
"Around that 6-month mark, it's time to start getting these things ready," says Wellard. "When they're a newborn, you don't have to do that, but the minute they start moving and rolling, it's time to get those gates out."
This type of semi-permanent gate (screwed into place) has major benefits: It won’t fall down, you can keep it open when you don’t need it and there's no bar at the bottom to trip over.
9. Keep cleaning and laundry products out of reach
The CPSC estimates that 84,000 children were treated in the emergency room in 2015 as a result of poison exposure. Among the top five products associated in pediatric poisoning incidents were laundry pods.
"Lock the cabinets and keep things high," says Wellard, reminding parents that once baby starts climbing, storing things on higher shelves won't keep them safe. "The best choice is always to lock it."
Wellard also cautions against storing pills and other medications in purses, as small children can mistake them for candy.
"You just have to stay on top of them," says Wellard. "You have to get on their level and see that they're potentially looking at. It only takes a little bit, it only takes a split second — things happen, and you can't be on guard 24/7. You just have to take common-sense steps to prevent injury."
Curious babies love to open whatever they can, and you’re probably going to want to lock up your cabinets. These are a great option that works to keep them locked out even when they’re older.
10. Create a safe spot for babies to play during chores
If babies crawl around on the floor while parents are making dinner, Sheehan said this could be a potential hazard.
You need something that contains your child while you're making dinner and keeps them busy, happy and safe — these types of toys fit the bill. This one has all the goodies babies love, including lights, sounds and music, and has an adjustable height so it can grow with them.
11. Watch out for corners
“I recommend parents get on the floor so that they’re at eye-level of their baby and look around. It helps them look at their home in a different way, and it’s easier to spot things that are going to be attractive to a baby,” said Sheehan.
It can sometimes seem like babies are magnets for sharp corners, so you grab corner guards for tables and other sharp corners you spot.
12. Keep windows guarded
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a decrease in window falls by 50 percent,” said Dr. Sheehan. Still, she advised parents to secure windows so they can’t open more than four inches.
These window stops screw into the window frame. If you don’t own your place or don’t want holes, you can also look for versions that are applied with suction cups. Releasable window guards, which have bars that go across the window, are another option.
13. Skip the tablecloths
According to Dr. Sheehan, tablecloths are a big problem. Kids love to pull them down (or use them to try to pull themselves up), which can easily send the contents of the table flying.
While it may be an unconventional baby-proofing product, trading in the tablecloth for placemats is a must. These from Chilewich are elegant, easily wipe down, and the vinyl material doesn’t slide around.
This story was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.