From the moment your new baby arrives home, keeping him or her safe is a huge commitment, but a very important one. More than one-third of child injuries and deaths happen at home, the National Safety Council reports. Young children and babies have the highest risk of being injured at home because that's where they spend most of their time.
Diligence in a few key areas will help keep your baby safe. Here we offer tips for bath time, sleep and car seat safety.
Choose the right pediatrician for your baby.
Bath time safety
Bath time can be a fun, soothing and relaxing part of your newborn's routine. But bath time does also pose safety risks, so it's important to take steps to keep your baby safe.
Contrary to popular thought, most babies do not need a bath every single day. With all the diaper changes and wiping of mouth and nose after feedings, most babies may only need to be bathed two or three times a week, or every other day.
Sponge baths are required at first. Bathing in a tub water should wait until the baby's umbilical cord falls off, and a baby boy's circumcision heals, to prevent infection. This may take up to two weeks.
How to give your newborn a sponge bath
Prepare the bath
- Gather your supplies in a warm room. It can be any room that is safe, quiet and clean; it does not have to be a bathroom. Supplies include a bowl or basin, a small cup, cotton balls, a soft washcloth, baby soap and shampoo, a soft and firm surface for baby to recline on (like a folded towel or bath cushion), and a hooded towel.
- Try to keep the room temperature to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit without drafts. Place all of your equipment near you so that you don't have to walk away once you have begun. Add warm water, 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to a bowl or basin. Use a thermometer or test the water on the inside of your wrist, where your skin is more sensitive than your hand.
Create a safe spot for baby
- Place baby on a bath cushion or thick towels on a surface that is waist high. Keep baby covered with a towel or blanket and uncover one area at a time as you clean it. Never take your hands off baby, even for a moment. If you have forgotten something, wrap up the baby in a towel and take him or her with you.
Gently wash in this order
- Start with the baby's face. Use one moistened, clean cotton ball to wipe each eye, starting at the bridge of the nose then wiping out to the corner of the eye. Wash the rest of the baby's face with a soft, moist washcloth without soap. Clean the outside folds of the ears with a soft washcloth. Do not insert a cotton swab into the baby's ear canal because of the risk of damage to the eardrum.
- Add a small amount of baby soap to the water or washcloth and gently bathe the rest of the baby from the neck down. Rinse with a clean washcloth or a small cup of water. Be sure to avoid getting the umbilical cord wet.
- Wash the baby's head last with shampoo on a washcloth. Rinse, being careful not to let the water run over the baby's face. Holding the baby firmly with your arm under his or her back and your wrist and hand supporting his or her neck, you can use a high faucet to rinse the hair.
- Scrubbing is not necessary, but most babies enjoy their arms and legs being massaged with gentle strokes during a bath.
Post-sponge bath tips
- Wrap the baby in a hooded towel and cuddle your clean baby close. Follow cord care instructions given by your baby's doctor. Use a soft baby brush to comb out your baby's hair. Do not use a hair dryer on hot to dry a baby's hair because of the risk of burns.
- Expect your baby to cry the first few times you bathe him or her. Usually, this is just because a bath is a new experience. However, be sure to check that the water is not too warm, too cold or that soap has not gotten in your baby's eyes if your baby suddenly starts crying during a bath.
How to give your newborn a tub bath
- Once your baby's umbilical cord has fallen off (and circumcision has healed, for boys) he or she is ready to begin tub baths.
- Equipment needed for a tub bath includes a baby bathtub (preferably with a bottom drain plug), nonslip mat or pad and a bath thermometer (these often have "safe" bath temperature ranges marked on them).
- Clear the counter or tabletop of breakable objects and electrical appliances to prevent injury. Fill the tub with warm water using a bath thermometer for the correct temperature.
- Once you have graduated to tub bathing, you can follow the same instructions indicated above for sponge bathing. Never take your hands off your baby or walk away, even for a moment.
- Be sure to clean and rinse the bathtub after each use.
How to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related infant death
Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on creating a safe sleep environment for the first year:
Sleep placement and proper bedding are important
- Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep (at night and for naps).
- Baby needs a firm sleep surface. If your baby falls asleep in a car seat, stroller, swing, infant carrier or sling, move him or her to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible. Never put your baby to sleep on a chair, sofa, waterbed, cushion or sheepskin.
- Cribs, bassinets, portable cribs, play yards, etc. should meet current safety standards. Check to make sure products have not been recalled. Do not use a crib that is broken or missing parts, or has drop-side rails.
- Cover the mattress with a fitted sheet. Do not put blankets or pillows between the mattress and the fitted sheet.
- Keep soft objects, loose bedding or anything that increases the risk of entrapment, suffocation or strangulation out of the crib. Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, bumper pads and stuffed toys can cause suffocation.
- Baby can sleep in the same room as you but not in the same bed. Keep the crib or bassinet in arm's reach of your bed to easily watch or breastfeed baby. Babies who sleep in bed with their parents are at risk of SIDS, suffocation or strangulation.
- Keep the room where your baby sleeps at a comfortable temperature. Dress baby in no more than one extra layer than you'd wear. Your baby may be too hot if they are sweating or their chest feels hot. If you're worried about baby being cold, use infant sleep clothing designed to be warm without covering the head.
Take SIDS precautions
- Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime to help reduce the risk of SIDS. If breastfeeding, wait until it's going well before offering a pacifier, usually about three to four weeks. It's OK if your baby doesn't want to use a pacifier. You can try offering it again, but some babies don't like them. If the pacifier falls out during sleep, you do not have to put it back in.
- Do not use home cardiorespiratory monitors unless advised by your doctor for special needs such as breathing or heart problems. They have not been found to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Do not use products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS, such as wedges, positioners, special mattresses and specialized sleep surfaces. They have not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS and some infants have suffocated while using these products.
Car seat safety
Using your car seat correctly: why and how to do it
All infants should ride in a rear-facing car seat until at least 2 years of age, or they reach the highest weight or height from the manufacturer.
Every state has laws requiring babies to ride in an approved car safety seat to help keep them safe. But using your baby's car seat correctly is essential to protecting them as much as possible in case of a crash. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it's important to ensure that you're doing everything right to help protect your precious cargo.
Follow these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help keep your child safe in a car seat:
Position and install your car seat correctly
- Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle with a front passenger airbag. If the airbag inflates, it will hit the back of the car seat where baby's head is, and could cause serious injury or death.
- Ensure your seat fits and is installed correctly according to the seat manufacturer's instructions. A certified child passenger safety (CPS) technician can help with installation and proper use.
- Harness straps should fit snugly against your baby's body. Check the seat's instructions for how to adjust the straps.
- Place the chest clip at armpit level to keep the harness straps secure on the shoulders.
- Make sure that the seat belt or LATCH tethers attaching the seat to your car are pulled tight and routed through the correct path. When the seat is installed, be sure it does not move more than an inch side to side or front to back.
- Do not place padding under or behind your infant, or use any sort of car seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the same manufacturer. To keep baby from slouching to the side, place rolled blankets on both sides of them. If they are sliding down in the seat, a small diaper or blanket may be placed between the crotch strap and your infant.
- Do not let baby wear heavy coats or snowsuits in their car seat. Bulky clothing increases the risk of injury in a crash because it can compress and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child. Dress baby in thinner layers and tuck a coat or blanket around them over the buckled harness straps.
- Complete your car seat's registration - it's important in case the seat is recalled. You can also research recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Do not use a car seat that was in a crash, has been recalled, is too old (check the expiration date), has any cracks in its frame, or is missing parts. Do not use a used car seat if you do not know the history of the seat.
- Contact the seat's manufacturer if you have any safety questions.