Safety First: How to Protect Infants and Young Children from Suffocation and Strangulation Hazards

Warning for Choking Hazard“Accidents happen” is a common phrase that suggests there is not much you can do to prevent injuries to your child. In reality, the opposite is true. We now use the phrase “unintentional injuries” instead of accidents. In many cases, these injuries can be prevented.

Childproofing your home for infants and young children is an important part of preventing suffocation and strangulation, two serious injuries. Suffocation means death from lack of oxygen. Strangulation means the airway has been constricted or squeezed long enough to cause death. These are alarming descriptions.

Practice a three-way approach to keep your children safe at home:

1.      Understand your child’s development stage, skill level and behavior patterns. We expect different things from an older child than we do from a toddler. Think about how your child approaches the world: a very curious child may be at a higher risk for injury.

2.      Provide appropriate supervision. A 1-year-old needs more supervision than a 5-year-old, but care needs to be taken with both ages.

 3.      Make the environment as safe as possible.

  • As your child grows, and develops new skills like walking or climbing, check your home and make adjustments.
  • When you look for hazards, experts suggest getting down on your hands and knees to see the world from your child’s perspective.

Make It Safe

Clothing and Cords

  • Never tie anything around your infant’s or toddler’s neck, including a pacifier or necklace. If you clip a pacifier to your baby’s clothing, the attached ribbon or band should be less than 6 inches long.
  • Be extremely careful if you put a headband on your baby or toddler. The headband can slip down around the neck, causing a strangulation hazard.
  • Never put your child to bed wearing a headband, clothing with a hood, or anything that could tighten around the neck.
  • Beware of clothing with drawstrings in the hood. It is illegal to manufacture children’s clothing with drawstrings, but we still see it all the time. These strings can catch on furniture or play equipment, causing strangulation.
  • Watch out for cords that dangle within a baby’s reach: phone cords, appliance cords, etc.

Furniture and the Home

  • Beware of accordion-style safety gates, which can entrap a baby’s head.
  • Keep children’s beds and cribs away from windows with blinds or drapery cords. Secure the cords in safety devices or tie them out of a child’s reach.
  • Watch for furniture with rails or slats wide enough for a child’s body to slip through, but small enough to entrap the head. Bunk beds can be hazardous when the side rails have enough space for the child’s body to slip through.
  • Always buckle your child into the stroller or high chair, as children can slip down.
  • Automatic garage doors have been known to pin a child. Test your garage door’s sensor regularly. As an additional precaution, do not allow children to play in or near the garage.

Cribs

  • Be sure your baby’s crib is safe.
    • Bumpers are not recommended. If you do use them, avoid the billowy kind, and be sure they are securely attached with strings or straps less than 6 inches long.
    • Keep stuffed animals, pillows and blankets out of the crib. Instead of a blanket, use an infant sleep sack.
    • Never tie anything across the top of the crib rails.
    • Do not use plastic or a plastic garbage bag as a mattress protector.
    • Mobiles should be out of reach and should be removed by the time the baby is 5 months old.
    • Never hang purses, diaper bags or anything with a handle on the baby’s crib.
    • A safe crib is the best place for a baby to sleep. Do not allow your infant to sleep on a couch or adult bed. These soft surfaces can cause suffocation.

Enclosed Containers

  • Keep picnic or camping coolers and plastic storage boxes out of a child’s reach. Curious children may climb into these containers during an innocent game of hide and seek. Many of these containers are airtight, and the oxygen can run out quickly.
  • Unused refrigerators are another dangerous hiding place for curious children. If you have one on your property, you are required by law to remove the door or disable the door latch.
  • The best toy boxes are those without lids. If your toy box does have a lid, it should not snap on tightly, and the box should have air vents. The lid should have a locking mechanism that holds it open and prevents it from closing on a child’s head or fingers.

Toys

  • Toys with strings, like pull toys, should have strings that are less than 6 inches long.
  • When your child receives a new toy, immediately take the plastic packaging out of the house. This applies to other plastic as well — dry cleaning plastic, plastic bags, etc.
  • Beware of any toy that is round, shallow and can fit over a child’s mouth and nose. The child can breathe in, creating suction that may hold the toy tightly to his or her face.

Wow, this is a scary list, but being aware of hazards that can cause suffocation and strangulation will help you check your child’s surroundings and hopefully prevent a tragedy.

Ideas for Childproofing Your Home

How have you childproofed your home? What tips do you have for other parents?

Safety First Series

This post is part of a “Safety First” series on children and safety. Check out these other safety-related posts: Safety First: Could Your Child’s Toys Be Dangerous? and Safety First: Using the Right Crib.

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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