As parents, one of our main roles is to keep our children safe. The world can be full of hazards that we never recognized before becoming parents, but once your little one arrives you suddenly notice danger everywhere! We can't prevent our children from every bumped head and skinned knee (nor should we- that is how they learn!), but we can prevent serious harm. Here are my top 5 baby safety tips as a physician mom.
Safe sleep: One common worry for new parents is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). While all causes of SIDS are not fully understood, we know that there are several steps parents can take to reduce the risk. The AAP recommends the ABCs until the age of 1 during nighttime sleep and naps to prevent SIDS: Alone: your baby should sleep alone with no loose blankets, toys, pillows, or other people. Back: your baby should be placed flat on their back to sleep at all times. Crib: your baby should sleep on a firm, flat surface such as a crib or bassinet that meets safety standards, not at an incline or in a car seat or swing. Breastfeeding and avoiding smoke exposure can also help reduce your baby's risk of SIDS. Many parents fall asleep with their babies unintentionally due to the exhaustion of early parenthood. I recommend that parents feed their babies overnight on a flat mattress on the floor with no blankets or loose pajamas/robes to reduce the risk of SIDS just in case you fall asleep. Try to get as much rest as you can and have your partner or other family members help with infant care during the day and overnight. Never lie down with your baby on a couch or recliner chair when you are feeling tired, these are very high risk locations for suffocation.
Car safety: When riding in the car, always put your baby in a car seat that meets federal safety standards. If you get into an accident, even a seemingly minor one, it is best to replace the car seat. Do not use a used car seat if you are not sure whether it has been in an accident before, and be sure to check the car seat's expiration date. Many retailers will allow you to turn in a used car seat to be recycled and get credit towards purchasing a new one. Your child should face backwards in the car until at least the age of 2, and even longer as long as they meet the height and weight criteria for their rear-facing car seat. Be sure to install your car seat correctly- many fire stations and retailers can help you install the seat correctly (it is not easy the first time!).
Prevent household accidents: Be sure to keep dangerous items in your house secure and out of reach to prevent accidents, particularly sharp items like knives and scissors, and choking hazards like coins, beads, and button batteries. Secure heavy furniture to the walls- as your little one starts to get more mobile they may try to climb on these items and pull them down on themselves. Avoid the use of rolling walkers- many babies have fallen down stairs in these devices. Use electrical outlet covers and locks to keep drawers and cabinets secured, especially those that contain cleaning products. It is best to start these habits early before your little one becomes mobile- you may find yourself unprepared if they are already moving when you start (although they will quickly show you your weak spots!). If you have pets, separate them from your child when they are playing and never leave them alone with your child. Even a pet that has never been aggressive in the past could become nervous around an unpredictable child and could accidentally injure or even attack your child.
Toy safety: Offer age appropriate toys without small or loose parts that could become a choking hazard. Be sure that any toys with batteries have the battery cover well-secured. Batteries are extremely dangerous and can cause serious injuries if swallowed (ideally avoid battery-operated toys entirely, it is better for your child's development and your ears will thank you!). Inspect toys regularly and remove from use any that are broken and have sharp edges or loose parts. Always supervise your child while they are playing with toys.
Take care of yourself: The early days and weeks of parenthood are exhausting and can be very stressful. This combined with postpartum mood changes, and particularly postpartum depression and anxiety disorders, can cause parents to act unlike themselves. At times you may feel like you are at the end of your rope with your child. If you are feeling this way, put your child down in a safe place and have your partner or a friend or family member take care of your child while you take a break to rest. Never shake a baby- this can cause permanent brain damage or even death. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing mood changes or anxiety symptoms- treatment is available whether through therapy and/or medication and can help you start feeling like yourself again. If you have intrusive thoughts of harming yourself, your baby, or someone else, seek care immediately at your nearest emergency room or mental health crisis center. The most important thing you can do as a parent to take care of your child is to make sure you are taking care of yourself first.
At Vida Family Medicine we offer comprehensive care for new parents and their babies from the 4th trimester and beyond. We can offer support for breastfeeding, postpartum mood disorders, recovering from pregnancy complications, and ongoing primary care for the whole family. If you are a new or expecting parent and are interested in this kind of support, please visit our website to learn more.