Security and stability are the key factors in buying baby equipment. First, look for the seal of approval from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov/), and examine items carefully to make sure they are stable and without safety hazards. Additional guidelines have been established by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (http://www.jpma.org/), and you may want to see if the product conforms to these voluntary standards.
Here are some general safety guidelines to follow:
- Run your fingers over the equipment, and touch every spot with which the infant is likely to come in contact. Avoid rough surfaces or surfaces that could become dangerously hot if exposed to the sun.
- Inspect all hinges, springs, or moving parts to make sure there are no places where your baby's hands, feet, fingers, or toes could get caught or pinched.
- Examine all small parts, straps, and coverings to make sure they are fastened securely.
- If equipment needs to be assembled, read and follow all manufacturer's directions.
See more specific guidelines on the next page.
Car seats for infants and young children are mandatory in all 50 states and must conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Infants weighing under 20 pounds must be belted into the seat, facing the rear of the car, and in a reclining position. Older children may sit upright facing forward. Except for infant seats, most car seats convert from a reclining position to upright and can be used by children weighing up to 40 pounds. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 and weighing more than 40 pounds should be in a booster seat.
Make sure the seat you choose is comfortable for your baby, fits your car, and has a label indicating that it meets all federal requirements.
Make sure the seat is not difficult to use or confusing to operate, particularly if you will need to use the seat in more than one car. Incorrect use of car seats is dangerous as well as illegal.
Make sure the mattress fits snugly -- if you can fit two fingers between the mattress and the side of the crib, your baby's head could become wedged there. A rolled blanket can be used to fill the space between the mattress and end boards. The mattress should be firm.
The slats of a crib should be less than 23/8 inches apart so your baby's head cannot get caught between them. Headboards should not have cutouts or decorations that could trap the head or neck.
All hinges and screws should be well set and out of reach, and there should be secure safety latches on the drop side that cannot be tripped, either by your baby or by any curious older children who may have access to the nursery.
All finishes should be smooth, and all paints should be nontoxic.
Don't use soft pillows or blankets that can become easily bunched; until infants can lift their heads high for long periods of time by themselves, suffocation when lying facedown in soft materials is a possibility.
Make sure you can lift a portable crib without too much effort, that it folds and stores easily, and that it is stable.
High Chairs and Strollers
Make sure a high chair or stroller has a good harness. Fasten it firmly to prevent your child from falling or climbing out.
Fold a stroller a few times and lift it into the folded position to see whether or not it will fit easily into the trunk of your car.
Make sure the mechanism that keeps a collapsible high chair or stroller open is securely locked when in use.
Make sure all surfaces are smooth and nontoxic and that all hinges, latches, and other features are in good working order and inaccessible to your baby's hands and fingers.
Make sure a stroller has solid wheels; rear wheels should come with shock absorbers.
In the next section, we'll cover the finer points of buying safe clothes for infants and children.
In addition to safety, comfort, convenience, and ease of cleaning are important in selecting clothing for infants and children. Therefore, consider the following suggestions:
- Try to buy clothing made from flame-retardant fabric. Many manufacturers are now using such materials exclusively, but it is wise to read all labels carefully.
- Make sure any small items, such as buttons, ribbons, or decorative features attached to your baby's clothing are fastened securely. A button (or whatever is pulled off or falls off) can immediately become a choking hazard. Also check to see that zippers or elastics are stitched strongly into place. If the thread around such features begins to unravel, the article should be fixed or removed before accidental ingestion becomes a possibility.
- Layettes (a term used to describe the clothing for a newborn) are generally a matter of choice. Along with a plentiful supply of diapers, your baby will also need a couple of changes of clothing daily, such as sleepers, stretch suits, nightgowns, pajamas, and undershirts; a receiving blanket; clothes for warm-weather outings or a knitted cap for cold-weather outings; socks or booties; and sweaters, bunting, or similar clothing for outings in cooler weather.
- Wash your baby's clothes in mild soap or mild detergent and double-rinse them. Do not wash them with the rest of your laundry, and do not use fabric softeners, since many of them contain chemicals that may irritate your baby's skin. It's best to continue washing your baby's things separately for the first few months until skin becomes less sensitive.
Toys are the type of equipment kids like best. But great care must be taken in buying these items, as you'll see in our final section.
Safety is the most important consideration when selecting toys. The fact is, some toys can be accidents waiting to happen.
- Make sure that any item -- or any removable part of an item -- is no less than 11/4 inches in any dimension so that it cannot be swallowed or produce gagging.
- Avoid anything with sharp corners, jagged edges, or pointy protrusions.
- Avoid toys made with straight pins, sharp wires, nails, and other dangerous materials.
- Check to make sure that all materials and paints used in the production of any item are safe (not glass or brittle plastic) and labeled nontoxic.
- Stuffed toys should be labeled "nonflammable," "flame resistant," or "flame retardant," as well as "washable."
- Check for durability and sturdy construction. Don't be shy about removing a toy from its box and giving it a good going-over. If it can be broken into little pieces, if buttons or other decorations can be torn off without too much effort, or if parts can pinch or trap fingers or catch hair, the toy is potentially dangerous.
- Regulations go a long way toward protecting your child from unsafe playthings, but they are not an absolute guarantee. It is always possible that a slightly defective item will slip past the safety checks and end up in a store. Moreover, many toys from other countries are not subject to such regulations and many toys that were produced before the regulations went into effect end up on more informal markets, such as garage sales or flea markets. Before purchasing any plaything for your baby, give it a good going-over yourself to make sure that all safety factors are in order.
- Check toys periodically to make sure they are in good repair. An item that passes all safety checks at the time of purchase can immediately become a serious hazard as soon as it is broken, chipped, or otherwise damaged.
We've covered how to make smart and safe purchases on many of the items you'll commonly buy for your youngster. Now go and enjoy them.