Hidden Hazards

Some of the biggest threats to your baby's safety lurk in unexpected places.


Parents everywhere took notice when reports surfaced earlier this year about the accidental strangulations of seven babies (and three close calls) by nursery monitor cords since 2002. The monitors were recalled (see box, below) and given a new label warning that the unit should be placed farther than three feet from the crib so babies can't reach it.

"Cords of all kinds—those from draperies, blinds, window shades—are dangerous," says Garry Gardner, M.D., chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Protection. The problem is that cords, like certain other hazards, generally don't get much attention. Here are some additional underestimated dangers:

An unsafe sleep environment: "The leading cause of death in babies under 1 year old is suffocation and strangulation, and many have to do with their sleep environment," says Gardner. Including cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), there were 3,412 such deaths in 2007, the last year for which there are data. The Chicago Tribune, which conducted its own investigation, reported in April on 17 deaths in which crib bumpers played a role. According to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokeswoman Kim Dulic, the agency is "taking a closer look into the bumper incidents to see if there is a safety problem." The AAP, however, has already warned parents against using bumpers.

"Positioning wedges are also a suffocation danger," says Gardner, as are pillows and blankets. Cribs themselves can pose a risk, too: Drop-side cribs have been implicated in at least 11 deaths since 2007. To educate caregivers, CPSC has launched a Safe Sleep initiative at www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/category/safety-qa/safe-sleep/.

Surprising choking hazards: Under-the-radar risks include some electrical outlet "babyproofing" plugs (opt for the larger sizes or make sure they fit very tightly), balloons and rubber doorstop tips.

Lithium "button" batteries: When swallowed or inhaled, these tiny batteries used in products such as television remote controls, greeting cards with sound and hearing aids often get stuck in the esophagus or airway, where moisture sets up an electrical current; the consequences can be fatal. "On X-rays the batteries often look like coins," Gardner says, "but this is an extreme emergency. The baby must be treated within two hours."

Glass fireplace shields: Since 1999, more than 2,000 children younger than 6 have suffered burns from glass enclosures on gas fireplaces.

The Lowdown on Recalls

"The term 'recall' doesn't always mean a product is taken off the market," says Kim Dulic of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "When CPSC learns of an unsafe product, it works with the manufacturer on a remedy: a replacement, repair, refund, or more informative warnings or instructions." You can sign up to receive recall notices by email at cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. View consumer complaints or report a problem with a product at saferproducts.gov.