Around the home
The reality is that your newborn won’t be very mobile until about three months, which helps ease you into your new role as chief safety officer. But even before then, accidents can – and do – happen. When you’re only sleeping a few hours a night, it’s easy to make a mistake. So having a few sensible safety rules can really help.
Prevent falls: one of the most common accidents for new babies is falling off change tables or other high places when nappies are being changed. You can avoid an accident by keeping one hand on your baby at all times or by changing her on a clean towel or rug on the floor.
Prevent burns: avoid cooking when holding your baby – either in your arms or in a sling. He could easily be burned.
Prevent choking: nothing should go into your newborn’s mouth besides your breast and her own fingers (or a bottle or dummy or safe, chewable toy if necessary). Regularly check the area within your baby’s reach, and remove small objects.
Guard against strangling and suffocation: get rid of all plastic wrapping in your home as soon as possible. Knot any plastic bags you plan to keep. Make sure you get rid of any plastic from cot or bassinette mattresses.
No shaking: never shake a baby. Even playfully throwing a newborn or young baby in the air can injure his fragile spinal column and brain. There are telltale signs of shaken baby syndrome, no matter how it happens.
Pets: animals can be unpredictable (even a snoozy old cat can surprise you with new behaviour). Let pets and babies get to know each other little by little. Always keep pets under supervision, especially the family dog.
In the bath
Three things to remember here: use warm water, never leave your baby unattended, and keep baby supported in your hands at all times.
Always test that the water temperature is approximately 36°C (between 37°C and 38°C for an older child) before placing your baby in the bath.
You need to stay with your baby the whole time because babies are just too slouchy to keep their noses above water. Drowning is very quick and completely silent at this age. Also, it’s not safe to ask your baby’s older siblings to supervise baby in the bath.
Nobody knows for sure what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is also called cot death. Research shows that the safest way to avoid it is to put your baby on his back to sleep, not on his tummy or side. (It’s a good idea to position your newborn’s head at a slight angle, alternating sides for each sleep, to avoid a flat spot developing.)
Smoking near your baby seems to increase the risk of SIDS.
- Cot bumpers, pillows, blankets and soft toys in the cot also pose a risk during your baby’s first year, so keep them away when she sleeps.
- Propping your baby’s dummy in place is dangerous. Babies can’t spit dummies out if they have trouble breathing, and they could suffocate.
- It’s better to lose a dummy than attach it to your baby’s clothes with ribbon or string – these could strangle your baby.
- Use clothes without ribbons, strings or ties around the neck. Take off any bibs or hooded clothes before putting your baby to bed.
Food and drink
- A bottle propped and left in a newborn’s mouth can be dangerous because your baby can inhale milk. You can read more about the dangers of bottle-feeding in bed.
- A hot cup of tea can burn your baby like fire does, so try to have your cuppa when your baby’s sleeping.
- Honey can contain harmful bacteria that cause botulism. It’s not suitable to put on your baby’s dummy.
- The safest way to warm a baby’s bottle is in a saucepan of warm-to-hot water. Microwaves heat unevenly and can cause scalding.
In the car
Cars are dangerous, even if you’re a good driver.
- According to the law, you must transport your newborn in a properly fitted child restraint, snugly buckled in.
- Don’t travel with your newborn seated on your lap.
- Never wrap your own seatbelt around your newborn – in an accident, he’d most likely be crushed by your weight.
- The inside of a car can quickly heat up to deadly levels, so never leave your baby unattended in a car.
Out and about
- Prams are made to move easily. In fact, they can move even when you’re not pushing them. So always lock the wheels when you’re not holding onto your pram. Also remember that a pram can tip over from weight stacked on the back, or from shopping bags hanging from the handles, even if your baby’s inside.
- Look for a baby carrier with an adjustable shoulder harness and a waist and crotch strap that you can keep snug. Make sure there’s no room for your baby to fall out.
- In child restraints, always put babies on their backs. Keep the space between the liner and your baby clear. Accessories such as head supports, lambskin liners and padded mattresses might interfere with the safe working of the restraint. Your baby doesn’t need them to be comfortable. Also, restraints with velcro straps are no longer recommended.
In case of emergency
They don’t happen every day, but accidents do happen. Be prepared by keeping a list of emergency phone numbers in your mobile or by the phone.
It’s wise to take a first aid course, particularly if you live in an isolated area or are often with baby on your own. Our illustrated guide to helping a choking baby is also worth printing and sticking on the fridge.