How Safe is Your Baby's Nursery?

Experts reveal how to style your baby's living space, from top to bottom, while protecting her from potential hazards, from crib space to furnishing and flooring.

How Safe is Your Baby's Nursery? Alexandra Grablewski/Getty Images

Decorating your baby's room can be a ton of fun, but appearance shouldn't be your only concern. "We love a good-looking nursery, but baby's safety should always be top priority when planning for the space," says Pam Ginocchio, co-founder of Project Nursery. "Fortunately, style and safety go hand in hand these days."

As you map out your child's living space, consider these expert tips surrounding the different aspects of your nursery to keep her happy and healthy at home.

General Furniture

As new parents often get caught up in the excitement of designing their little one's nursery, they may inadvertently overlook an important safety component: the furnishings themselves. This is especially true of hand-me-down cribs, changing tables and other baby gear. "Many parents have gently used furniture or 'kid-tested' items from friends and family, but few think to check if these items have been recalled," says Iana Simeonov, safety expert and project director, Public Health Institute.

Before accepting gently used baby products, check to see if a product has been recalled or no longer meets safety standards by visiting www.safekids.org/product-recalls. When purchasing new products, Simeonov recommends completing and mailing in the registration card, so the manufacturer can contact you in the event of a recall.

Crib

Once you've secured the right furnishings, experts suggest zeroing in on the different elements of your child's nursery to keep distinct areas safe and secure. One of the most important areas—where your baby will be spending much of her time, especially in the early months—is her crib. If your baby is using a crib that has been handed down and has not been recalled, be sure to check it for sharp or jagged edges; missing, loose or broken parts and any gaps that are larger than two fingers' width between the sides of the crib and the mattress. "If you can fit a can of soda between the slats of a crib, that means a child's head, hand or foot could potentially get stuck," notes Simeonov.

If you are purchasing a new crib, new models must meet the safety standards of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). "Cribs made before 2011 were often made with drop-down side rails, which are no longer considered safe because there is an associated risk of entrapment, suffocation or strangulation," notes Jeremy Friedman, M.D., and Natasha Saunders, M.D., in their new book, Baby Care Basics.

Your baby's mattress should fit her crib snugly, and should be adjusted as she grows: lower when your infant can sit up and lowest when she can pull to a standing position.

When adorning her crib, keep it to a minimum. "Most parents want to decorate the crib with baby gifts, but when it is time to sleep, take all the pretty things out," Drs. Friedman and Saunders say. All that is needed is a fitted sheet—no pillows, bumper pads, comforters or stuffed toys, all of which have been linked to an increased risk in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Changing Table and Dresser

Setting up a designated space for diaper changes and getting dressed is a must for every infant's nursery. To ensure her safety, especially at the age when your child becomes more mobile, Ginocchio recommends securing both the changing pad to the table and the changing table to the wall, creating a safe spot for changing diapers and clothes. The same goes for the dresser, wardrobe or any other piece of furniture used to house baby's clothing: secure furniture to the wall to avoid possible tip overs. This extra precaution is especially important once your baby begins crawling and uses furniture to pull herself up to a standing position.

Window Treatments

Sure, those gorgeous, billowing drapes you picked out are a stunning addition to the nursery, but make certain that your baby can't get a hold of them. Friedman and Saunders advise that all windows have safety catches and screens attached, and all blinds and curtain cords should be carefully wrapped and positioned out of reach.

Play Area/Flooring

To ensure that your baby has a clean turf on which to explore and crawl around, experts advise having a smooth, easy surface. "The nursery floor is so important," says Ginocchio. "After all, it's where you'll spend loads of time playing with your baby." She suggests opting for allergen-free flooring by investing in new carpeting or hardwood floors with a soft, natural area rug.

Another option is interlocking foam tiles, which Simeonov says, are a "clean and inexpensive way of creating a safe floor."

Electrical Outlets

Keeping prying little fingers from investigating electrical sockets continues to be an essential, but thanks to advances in modern technology, it's now even easier. According to Ginocchio, some electrical outlets can be operated via Bluetooth technology from your smart phone. For those who prefer a more standard approach, plastic covers can effectively deter your baby from sticking her fingers or other small objects into electrical outlets.

Practical Tips

As your baby grows, make a point of updating the layout of her nursery accordingly. "To minimize the risk of accidents, try to see the world through the eyes of an inquisitive baby," offer Drs. Friedman and Saunders. "Get down on all fours and see what you could potentially pull down or grasp. You need to anticipate the dangers that might accompany each new development milestone."

Ginocchio recommends getting into the habit of checking things out on a regular basis. "It's a good idea to survey the entire nursery every month to make sure the room stays up to speed with your baby's growth," she says.

Keeping an eye on things and your baby will ensure a safe and happy home for both of you. While experts see the value in diligent baby proofing, they agree that it doesn't take the place of an observant caregiver. As Drs. Friedman and Saunders write in their book, "Certainly childproof your baby's environment as meticulously as possible, but there is no substitute for vigilance and supervision."

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