From stair gates to non-slip mats and locking the oven, there's lots you can do to make your home more baby-friendly.
One can only imagine the challenges involved in baby-proofing a royal residence. Fitting stairwells with the world’s widest baby gates; locking down toilet seats in 78 separate bathrooms – well, Buckingham Palace has 78, but the Duke and Duchess of Sussex won’t have quite that many to contend with, when they take their baby back to their new home in Windsor.
Still, whether you’re a royal or a regular Joe, baby-proofing your home for new arrivals can be a pretty big task. Your little prince or princess might spend all day, every day snoozing at first – but they’ll soon hit curious mode, wanting to clamber on, poke and explore everything possible.
“More than a million children are taken to hospital every year in the UK because of accidents in the home,” says Lorna Marsh, senior editor and parenting expert at BabyCentre. “Falls are the most common accidents, and you need to minimise hazards before your baby starts crawling.”
So where to start? Here are five tips for ensuring your home is a baby-friendly zone…
1. Prepare early
A couple of points to note up front: First of all, no amount of baby-proofing can substitute for watchful supervision, so don’t let gadgets lull you into a false sense of security. Many a baby gate has been scaled by an enterprising infant, and some youngsters make a habit of turning up in unexpected places.
Secondly, it’s never too early to start thinking about baby-proofing. Young children tend to grow alarmingly quickly and by the time they’re crawling, you want to be confident with your new safety features. Getting the job done is much simpler when you’re not knee-deep in nappies and battling sleepless nights, so it’s a good idea all round to prepare early.
Before you begin, it’s worth getting on your hands and knees to get a child’s eye view of your home. Are there any edges or corners that look threatening, or furniture that’s invitingly climbable? Silly though it may sound, this is a worthy way to identify potential trouble spots before your child starts to explore.
2. Consider how things look from toddler height
Start with the big stuff. Any furniture that can topple (bookcases, we’re looking at you), should be fastened to the wall securely with furniture straps or brackets, while tall, unstable lamps should ideally be removed. Attach cushioned corner protectors to desks and coffee tables to avoid painful bumps and bangs.
“A new arrival means you’ll see your home in a whole new light,” says Marsh. “Things that you took no notice of before suddenly become a potential danger.” Cupboards should be sorted into safe and not-safe, and the latter latched with baby locks.
There are some obvious things to keep out of reach – knives, medicines, cleaning products and so on – but even apparently innocuous items can represent a risk if not considered carefully. House plants, for example, can be poisonous if nibbled on, and even the harmless ones are often potted in earth or dirt that might look appetising to a curious bub.
Beware the chest of drawers – you may think it’s a safe place for your unsecured television to sit on, but adventurous children use drawers for climbing practice, and anything heavy on top can topple off, potentially ending in serious trauma.
3. Make stairs and windows safe
If there are stairs in your home, baby gates are essential – consider installing one at the top and bottom of the stairs. It only takes a second for a littl’un to scale a set of steps!
Window blind cords can be particularly dangerous for children and must never be overlooked. “Replace corded window blinds with cordless ones,” says Marsh, “and put stickers on glass doors to make them visible to your child. Fit window locks, and never open them wide enough for a crawling baby to get out.”
Electrical cables represent trip, choke and entanglement hazards for small children, so use cord holders to fasten them to the walls.
4. Check every room
Once you’ve dealt with the basics, give your whole house a systematic sweep. Different dwellings pose different dangers, and the only way to know that you’ve got everything is to take a proper stock-check yourself.
The bathroom is one of the most perilous places for a tot who’s just finding their feet. An infant can drown in just 5cm of water, so invest in a baby bath seat and never, ever leave a bathing baby unsupervised. Toilet seat locks are a must too, and you can prevent scalding by adding soft covers on bath taps and spouts. Wobbly babies and slippery surfaces don’t mix, so put down some non-slip mats in tiled areas.
The kitchen is also high on the danger-o-meter. Avoid place mats and tablecloths on dining tables (an inquisitive child will tug on them, and bring the table’s contents crashing down), and make sure your oven is always safely locked, with covers on anything likely to get hot to the touch.
Sitting rooms can be deceptively hazardous, especially those with fireplaces. “Fit smoke alarms and keep a fire extinguisher nearby if you have a fireplace,” says Marsh. “By law, you must have a fireguard, and keep matches and lighters out of your child’s reach.
“In the bedroom, make sure your baby’s cot or Moses basket is sleep-safe,” she adds. “And, if you have a cat, put a cat net over [the baby’s bed].”
5. Think about how you’re using your home too
Making alternations is vital – but think about how you’re doing things around the home too. Is there a more child and baby-safe way to adapt everyday tasks?
For example, cook on the wall-side hobs if you have them (they’re further from reach!), and keep kitchen appliances away from children where possible. “Keep mugs of hot drinks away from edges,” adds Marsh. “And when cooking, make sure that the handles of saucepans are turned away from the edge.”
Be sure to unplug appliances like irons (we should all be doing this anyway!), and remember that visitors to your home may not be holding their habits to the same standards.
Be careful what you throw away too, as some babies are relentless scavengers. “Old batteries, plastic bags and sharp objects should be discarded safely,” says Marsh. Toys like Lego are well-established choking hazards, and the same goes for items like marbles, coins and paperclips.
“Keep plastic bags, including nappy bags, well out of reach of your child,” she adds, “and make sure pens, scissors, letter openers, staplers and other sharp instruments are kept in locked drawers.”
Even when they’re clear of all apparent danger, crawling children are still wiping their mitts on the floor, so it’s important to keep a hygienic home too. If you don’t already, enforce a no-shoes policy inside the house, and clean regularly to keep your surfaces germ-free (you don’t need a gleaming show home, of course – we’re just talking about getting the important basics done).