When should I start babyproofing my house?

Should you baby-proof before your due date, or take a wait-and-see approach?

Photo: @PunkyBrewstah via Instagram

It was my last trimester, and sh*t was starting to get real. I wanted to feel ready, but new parenthood is something you can’t totally prepare for. Then it hit me: I’ll babyproof the place! I had a baby shower gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket. Before I beelined to the baby stores on one of my last Saturdays of freedom, I did some research, starting with the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Basic Home Safety checklist.

Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors—done! “Use non-slip placemats instead of a tablecloth”—OK, wouldn’t have thought of that. “Keep baby behind a safety gate or secure in a high chair when you are cleaning, cooking or making hot drinks”—what? How is that practical? After reading the 57 recommendations, I was in a cold sweat.

It’s no wonder professional babyproofing is a big business. “People come to me because they don’t know what to do or how to do it,” says David Drutz, president of Toronto-based Kiddie Proofers. For $75, a safety specialist spends two hours in your home and produces a room-by-room list of suggestions, many of which require the purchase and installation of gear, running up to $5,000. That’s a lot of money, but Drutz says babyproofing provides peace of mind. You don’t want to end up thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I let that happen.”

Before you get overwhelmed, Pamela Fuselli, a safety expert with Parachute, a national charity organization for child injury prevention, suggests focusing on some of the leading causes of injury. Because falls top the list, prioritize installing baby gates at the top and base of all stairs. The relative prevalence of poisoning and burns indicates you should take special care with cleaning supplies and stoves.

An important caveat: You don’t have to babyproof everything at once. The immobile newborn stage requires sleep safety measures (removing bumper pads, pillows, blankets and stuffies from the crib) and setting the water heater to no hotter than 49C to avoid bath scalds. Once your baby is on the move, it’s time to tuck cords away and install outlet covers. When she can pull up, install window guards (screens don’t prevent falls) and anchor top-heavy furniture to the walls. At the first sign of climbing, any chemicals you stashed out of reach earlier should be locked up or moved higher.

Survey parents on their second or third kid, however, and you’ll discover the unofficial rules of babyproofing: You may never do some items on the checklist. Instead of placing all trash bins under lock and key in an effort to babyproof, you might elect to simply teach your kid not to get into them (“yucky!”). Some baby obsessions turn out to be short-lived: One week your tot repeatedly drags a bag of flour off the shelves, the next she wants to cruise along the coffee table.

Cynthia Lennon, a mom of three in Guelph, Ont., never used a bottom stair gate, because her first and second children simply weren’t climbers. She installed outlet plugs when her son was little, but her daughter wasn’t interested in outlets because she was too busy following her big brother around. With her third, the hazards have changed again: This baby will soon be learning to crawl amid all the Lego bits strewn around the house.

While it’s tempting to pen our kids in padded areas with zero risk, remember that babies need space—and encouragement—to explore and learn new skills.

Mariana Brussoni, a child safety expert in Vancouver, warns of the false sense of security that comes from checking everything off the list. She says parents should aim for limited (or supervised) freedom. “Sit back, shut up and watch as much as possible.”

What are the most common baby and toddler household hazards

-Tugging on drapes and shower curtains.

-Hanging off the oven door handle (get an oven lock) or fiddling with gas stove knobs (buy covers).

-Dishwasher dangers: steam burns, climbing into an open dishwasher or grabbing knives from the silverware basket.

-Trying to “swipe” unsecured big flat-screen TVs the way you’d swipe a tablet.

-Yanking lamps or appliances off tables by their cords.

-Climbing out of the crib. Set mattress to lowest level possible, and consider using sleep sacks.

Read more:
I ditched the baby gate and let my kid eat dirt—and I was a better mom for it
How do I babyproof?
When your baby starts climbing

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