Everyone needs a break. It's not realistic for a parent or caregiver to have their eyes on a baby 24 hours a day. That's why you need to make sure that these common hazardous items that we all have in our homes are out of reach to keep your little one safe.
When a baby is born, their parents might have hopes and dreams for their long-term future… a pro ball player, Supreme Court Justice, creator of grandchildren, or anything else. But many parents don't think quite that far ahead when holding a sweet, squirmy newborn.
Instead, they think about babyproofing their home, safe sleep, and protecting their baby at least through toddlerhood—start small and worry about the rest later.
This is for good reason because accidental injury is the leading cause of death in children and young adults, according to the CDC.
|Type of injury||Approximate number of children affected|
|Unintentional injuries, generally||12,000 children (ages 1-19) each year|
|Falls, leading cause of nonfatal injury among children||8,000 visits by children under age 19 to hospital emergency rooms each day|
|Bicycle-related accidents||100 children killed per year, 254,000 injured|
|Drowning||Leading cause of injury/death to children ages 1-4; most occur in residential swimming pools or open water sites|
|Suffocation (airway obstruction)||Leading cause of injury-related death in infants under one year old|
|Unintentional home injury deaths caused by fire or burns, suffocation, drowning, firearms, falls, choking and poisoning||2,000 children under age 15 each year|
The last thing any parent wants to consider is the possibility of their child becoming injured, especially if the accident leads to severe injury, disability or fatality.
But unfortunately, we know this happens. It's good to know—especially as a new parent—what you can do to try to prevent the worst-case scenario (or any bad scenario). And, if the unthinkable does happen, it's important to know your options for financial remedies.
10 Common household hazards to babies and children
1. Small toys
If you have young children, you've likely seen a warning on a toy that says that it contains small parts and is not appropriate for children under three years old. The rule of thumb is that any item small enough to fit through a cylinder the size of a toilet paper roll could pose a choking hazard.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) defines this as any item that can fit through a cylinder that's 2.25 inches long by 1.25 inches wide.
Dangerous items can include whole toys, a piece of a toy or game, or a piece that has broken off a toy (or any item) that is small enough to fit into a child's mouth but large enough to block their windpipe.
This can also apply to other household items like bottle caps, coins, hard candy, and numerous other things that are commonly found in a typical home.
Remember those colorful letters and numbers that would stick to refrigerators with little magnets on the back? They're a great teaching tool for toddlers, but maybe not so great from a safety perspective. The tiny magnets on the back of these refrigerator toys can become separated from the plastic and could cause a significant danger to a baby or young child.
Aside from being a choking hazard, if the magnet passes through the esophagus and into the organs of the digestive system, it can have fatal results. If your child swallows more than one magnet, they can pull together so forcefully that they could damage or make holes in organs.
The best prevention is to make sure that anything that contains a magnet is completely sealed and large enough that it can't fit in a child's mouth. Check items periodically to make sure no magnets are loose and that the items aren't in danger of breaking in a way that would allow the magnet to separate from the item.
3. Button batteries
Button batteries are those small, round lithium batteries that are now used to power many electronics, including toys, vehicle fobs, scales, watches, decorations, calculators and a variety of other devices.
The National Capital Poison Center reports that more than 3,500 people swallow button batteries each year—not just children. Often, they will pass through the body and the person is fine. But if they get caught in the esophagus, an electrical current can form in the body. If that happens, the alkaline chemical hydroxide can cause fatal tissue burns.
The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that more than 2,800 children are treated in emergency rooms yearly for injuries resulting from swallowing a button battery—that's one every three hours. Over the past 10 years, the number of serious injuries or deaths from button batteries has increased nine-fold. This is likely because they've become so much more prevalent in various electronics.
4. Electrical outlets
2,850 children suffer shocks or burns each year from electrical outlets. Usually, this is because a child sticks some common item (key, fork, etc.) in the outlet. The National Electric Code has required tamper-resistant receptacles in homes built since 2008, but if your home is older than that, you might wish to have them installed by an electrician. If you don't have tamper-resistant receptacles, you can purchase inexpensive outlet covers or caps to keep your children safe.
Along those same lines, be mindful of how you store phone chargers (and chargers for any device). If you leave a charger plugged in and a child (or pet) puts the live end in their mouth, they could get an electric shock. Unplug your chargers when they're not actively charging a device, and keep them out of reach of children.
5. Windows and blinds
A window that's open even a small amount can be dangerous. A child can fall out a window that's open only four inches. A screen does not prevent a child from falling out a window.
There are window guards that can prevent a window from opening far enough to allow a child to fall, and there are simple window stoppers that can achieve this purpose too. However, be sure that your window guards have quick-release mechanisms for fire safety.
Window blinds can also be dangerous, specifically those with inner, operating, and continuous loop cords that could cause strangulation. If a child between the ages of one and four can reach a cord, it's a danger—they don't understand the danger of becoming entangled.
You can prevent this possibility by not leaving your child unsupervised around an open window or a window with blinds. (We also know you can't have eyes on your child every single minute.) The alternative is to use cordless blinds or position the cords so that they are not accessible to the child. There are simple hooks that screw into the walls that allow the adult to wind the cord so that a child can't reach them.
6. Cotton swabs (aka Q-Tips)
Have you been using a cotton swab to clean your ears… forever? Many of us do this as part of our daily routine. But doctors don't recommend it.
The Journal of Pediatrics reported that during a 20-year period, more than 250,000 children went to emergency rooms in the U.S. for injuries to their ear canals or for eardrum damage from cotton swabs.
There are other types of tools and earwax drops that can help clean ears, but consult your child's pediatrician for guidance.
7. Baby powder
No one likes an angry diaper rash—not the parents, and certainly not the baby.
While it might seem soothing and like a good quick-fix for a painful rash on your baby's bottom, the risk is when tiny particles of baby powder—particularly powder that contains talc—are accidentally inhaled.
Johnson & Johnson has discontinued using talc in its baby powders, but there are still baby powders on the market with talc. (Does talc cause cancer? Read more.)
Even talc-free powder isn't recommended. Any small particles that a baby inhales raise the risk of respiratory issues. This is especially true for babies who were born prematurely, with congenital heart defects, and babies who have had Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
If you prefer to use powder for your baby, apply it to your hands and rub it on their skin instead of straight from the bottle, which would cause more particles to fly into the air.
Babies should sleep in their own space (i.e. a bassinet or crib), on a firm mattress, with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing else.
Although it might seem sweet to “bond” with your baby by letting them sleep in your bed with you, it raises the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Blankets, quilts, pillows, crib bumpers, and other soft objects in beds can pose a risk to your baby. It's recommended that your baby sleep in the same room with you for the first several weeks, but not in your bed.
9. Swimming pools
Even a kiddie-sized pool can be a drowning risk for your child. A young child can drown in just a few inches of water, and more than 10% of pool-related deaths are in kiddie pools. This includes inflatable pools, wading pools, and other types of portable above-ground pools.
There are a few ways to keep your children safe near water. First, always supervise. Be alert, pay attention, and never leave your child unattended (that includes in the bathtub!). Second, know where there's a phone available in case of an emergency—every second counts. When your children are not using the kiddie pool, drain the water so it's completely empty.
10. Baby equipment (strollers, swings, cribs, etc.)
Manufacturers design and build equipment specifically meant for babies… so how can it be harmful? Unfortunately, sometimes products have manufacturing defects that result in harm to babies or children.
A manufacturing defect could be one of three issues:
- Design defect, which is when the concept, design or specifications of the product were inherently flawed in a way that makes it dangerous;
- Manufacturing defect, or something that goes wrong in the process of constructing the item. If manufactured according to the correct specifications, it would be safe and others like it are safe;
- Failure to warn, which relates to how a product is designed to be used. If the instructions or package insert doesn't include warnings for potentially dangerous uses of the product or cautions the consumer can take in order to use it safely, the manufacturer can be held liable for an injury.
A product should be safe when the consumer uses it in a way that the manufacturer can reasonably anticipate. If a baby isn't strapped into a highchair using the provided safety belt and they fall, that's not the manufacturer's fault because the caregiver wasn't following instructions or using provided safety equipment. But if the baby is properly restrained in the chair and it tips because the center of gravity is too high, causing the baby to fall and be injured, that could be a design defect. The manufacturer should have done research and testing to ensure that the highchair would be safe when used properly.
See also: Defective Products: MamaRoo Infant Swing Recall
Was Your Baby's Crib Recalled or Issued a Safety Warning?
What should you do if your baby or child is injured?
If you're considering a personal injury claim for a product defect or other negligence, it's important to know the basic elements of any personal injury lawsuit: Duty, breach, causation, injury and damages.
- The defendant had a duty of care. Everyone has a duty to someone, even someone they don't know. For example, a driver has a duty to every other road user. If you drive a car, you must take reasonable steps to avoid causing harm to another person.
If the defendant is the manufacturer of a product, the company has a duty to the consumer to provide products that will not cause harm when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.
Likewise, any caregiver for your child has a duty to properly supervise their activity and keep them safe from harm.
- The defendant breached their duty. If the defendant's action (or inaction) was unreasonable or not upholding their duty of care, they are considered to have breached their duty.
- The breach caused the victim to be injured. There are two aspects of this element. First, if a defendant breached their duty and no one was injured, then there is no cause. For example, if a baby's high chair had a manufacturing defect that caused it to topple but the baby's parent was standing nearby and caught the baby before they fell, then there is no cause of action because there's no injury.
Second, if the victim was injured but the injury was not a result of the defendant's action or inaction, then they cannot file a lawsuit. In other words, if the baby fell out of the high chair because they were kicking when the caregiver was putting them in and squirmed out of the seat, that's not the manufacturer's fault and you can't sue them for negligence or a product defect.
- The victim suffered an injury. You might own a product that is subject to a recall or that is defective. If that's the situation, you should certainly contact the manufacturer and find out what is offered as a remedy. Usually, the manufacturer will offer an exchange or repair remedy for a recall on a defective product. However, owning the defective product does not give you cause for a lawsuit unless the product caused you or your child to be injured.
- The injury cost money. Money you can win in a lawsuit is called damages. The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to make the plaintiff (the injured person) whole, or to restore them to the financial condition they would be in if the accident hadn't happened.
If your child was injured because of a person or company's negligence, you can file a lawsuit on their behalf. You can recover damages that include medical treatment, special needs for education, loss of consortium (companionship and love of a child), and other expenses, depending on the severity and length the injury is anticipated to last.
A personal injury lawyer can assist you in every step of the process of recovering financially from your baby's injury.
These articles can provide more information, as can the Resource Guide for Baby and Child Safety below:
- Negligent Supervision of a Minor or Child: When Can You Sue?
- Children's Injuries & the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
- Product Liability: Defective Toy Injuries and Lawsuits
- Youth Sports Injuries, Accidents, & Liability: When Kids Get Hurt
- Accidents involving Children
- Kids Injured at School: Whose Insurance Pays For Treatment?
Resource guide for baby and child safety
- CPSC Small Parts for Toys and Children's Products Business Guidance
- How High-powered Magnetic Toys Can Harm Children
- Tiny Batteries Pose Sizeable Risks
- Tamper-resistant Receptacles (TRRs) for electrical outlets
- Pediatric Cotton-Tip Applicator-Related Ear Injury Treated in United States Emergency Departments
- Swimming Pool Accidents, Negligence & Personal Injury
- Water Safety for Kids – Let's Keep Swimming Fun and Safe!
- 10 Safety Hazards for Children in the Home