By Jeff Ribordy, M.D.
So you just brought home that new baby from the dealership with that new-baby smell. Now what? You are responsible for him or her for the next 18 years or beyond. How do you keep your child safe?
For younger infants who do not move around much, it is pretty simple. Hold them correctly. Support the head and cradle the body. Do not drop them, feed them fairly regularly. Keep their sleeping area clear of blankets and toys. This will reduce any risk of suffocation. Of course, the most important sleeping safety measure for infants is to sleep them on their backs. This can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, a tragic event that has claimed the lives of many infants over the years. The cause of SIDS is still unexplained. But since parents started having their infants sleep only on their backs, SIDS is much rarer. We do not even know why back sleeping works, it just does.
Another important item is car seat safety. While almost everyone knows to place their infant in a car seat, they can be hard to secure properly. Each seat is slightly different, which makes it challenging. Many communities have car seat check stations at local police or fire departments, public health departments, or at local health fairs. If you have an opportunity, it would be wise to have an expert check out your seat. Also, infants and children should not be in a front seat, especially if it has an air bag.
Falls are another important area to watch for. While newborns can’t crawl or roll, they can wiggle and sometimes be dropped. At 4 months, some infants can roll over. They should never be left alone, even for a few seconds! Falls from changing tables, couches, beds, or even arms will usually cause only bruises. But sometimes they can cause more significant problems like skull fractures or brain injuries. For older infants, walkers are another source of potential injury, especially if stairs are present in your home. Pediatricians recommend against their use.
For older infants who are starting to move and have better hand control (4-9 months), the worries turn to burns and choking. As infants become mobile (rolling, crawling, pulling to stand), they are able to pull items down from higher levels. A cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, or a pan on the stove has the potential for a significant burn injury if an infant pulls it down on themselves. Keep all objects away from edges of tables or counters and consider installing oven guards to keep little fingers away from the stove.
Starting solids can also be a source of anxiety for parents. Babies start with pureed foods for a reason, as they cannot chew foods well and are learning to swallow. Never give a newborn or even a toddler any hard pieces of food that could lodge in their airway. Examples include pieces of apple, candy, chunks of meat or even popcorn.
The most important thing you can do as a new parent to protect your baby from harm is to immunize. The current immunization schedule has been extensively studied for safety and effective protection from disease. There are no valid reasons to delay or space out vaccines. Doing so only puts your child at risk for bad infections that could lead to death or serious disability.
While these are important safety highlights to protect your new family addition, please consult with your pediatrician or family physician for more information and tips.
— Dr. Ribordy is the regional medical director of Partnership HealthPlan of California