Infants can be in a league of their own when it comes to safety issues. Babies are less mobile and therefore less capable of finding trouble on their own, but they also face unique safety risks because of their size and muscular immaturity. Although much of the information throughout the rest of this book also applies to infants, babies face some unique safety challenges that we’ll discuss in this chapter.
Infant Safety Risks
Babies face three primary safety risks: Falls, suffocation, and drownings. Burns, poisoning, and choking also occur with regular frequency. Falls are the leading cause of injury to infants. For babies under 1 year of age, falls cause more than half of non-fatal injuries. Suffocation/strangulation is the primary killer of infants in most years.
Keeping Infants Safe
Babies are sensory learners. They look, see, touch, and taste everything in their environment. Babies put everything in their mouth in part because the senses around the mouth are the one area of their body where neurons are totally functional and easily stimulated, since the suckle instinct is the first and most prominent instinct they have.
According to research by Dr. Dana Best, a pediatrician with the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, infants and small toddlers put toys in their mouths an average of 20 times an hour, so you need to be extra vigilant if you have teething babies or toddlers in the house. Anything that you wouldn’t want them to touch, taste or put in their mouth should not be accessible in any way.
This tendency isn’t all bad. In fact, gumming everything in sight may offer babies hidden advantages, says pediatrician Harvey Karp. Scooping dirt into their mouth or muddy twigs may supply a baby with extra iron or other nutrients in the soil, and it can also build a baby’s immune system by exposing them to tiny doses of germs or helpful bacteria. Studies have shown that eating dirt actually helps a baby’s immune system develop, and too sterile of an environment or too much hygiene actually jeopardizes a child’s health. So keep a watchful eye over something that might harm them, but you also needn’t overreact when your baby gets ahold of the dogs toy and starts gumming it.
Babies are born with a sweet tooth. This encourages them to seek out ripe fruits and calorie-rich foods such as breast milk while avoiding poisonous plants, which tend to taste bitter. These preferences likely helped protect babies in the past who were being raised on the forest floor, but it can also frustrate parents trying to get them to eat their greens.
Because their heads are large, babies and young toddlers are “top-heavy,” and easily tip over. Thus they may be prone to falling out of beds or tipping over on obstructions. And since they don’t have the ability to break their fall with their arms, they generally topple head-first. A recent study also found that infants and toddlers tend to injure themselves more often around developmental milestones – such as when they first start to crawl or walk. It may take them a while to realize the limits of this newfound mobility, and so they tend to suffer more accidents than they normally would. (Read more in our blog post, (Babies On Ledges http://child-safety-news.blogspot.com/2011/04/babies-on-ledges.html) So keep a more watchful eye around these ages.
Infant safety concerns that are discussed in other chapters:
- If you have a pet, be sure to read our tips about bringing home a new baby in our pet safety area.
- Make sure you follow the steps in our childproofing your home section to baby-proof your house.
- Read about the dangers of children being forgotten in cars to take preventive steps to ensure you never forget about your baby.