One of Pip’s little girlfriends, who is a actually a few weeks younger than him, is walking already (with a push along walker, but still!) While Pip himself hasn’t shown much interest in moving around yet, this has brought home the imminent prospect of crawling, or at least some bottom shuffling. Babies’ development at this age seems so rapid: it only feels like a minute ago that Pip mastered sitting, and so many seasoned parents have informed me that I will “miss” these days of immobility that I’ve started to think there might be something challenging on its way that will need thought and preparation devoted to it before it hits us.
Enter the concept of “baby-proofing” or “child-proofing”: essentially preparing your house so that it is a safe zone for your baby to roam, by way of nifty inventions such as plug socket covers and stair gates.
There is a school of thought out there that dismisses baby-proofing altogether as a marketing ploy, designed to get gullible parents forking out for overpriced plastic gadgets they don’t need, while in the meantime your baby becomes incapable of learning right from wrong. The solution instead seems to be to “house-proof” your baby, discouraging them from sticking their fingers in plug sockets and so on rather than concealing them entirely. One advantage of this method is that when your baby visits non-baby-proofed houses, they already understand the limits of what they are allowed to touch and where they are allowed to go, which does sound vaguely sensible.
The major flaw in this plan, however, is its side effect of having to be with your baby all the time while they learn how to avoid hazards. And when I say all the time, I mean all the time. It only takes a split second for an accident to happen! For me that is unrealistic: I would like to be able to pop to the bathroom, say, without stressing that Pip will start dragging our wine bottles from the rack, smashing them then glassing himself or drinking the contents or both. It seems much more practical to just move our wine rack off the floor. I sense there would be an awful lot of “NO!!!”s having to be said with this method, which I don’t like the idea of either; I would rather be positive and encouraging (seasoned parents, please control your mocking laughter and let me continue with this fantasy).
Alternatively, every time you leave the room you could put your baby into a playpen or their cot, then take them out again once you return. However, this seems to rather contradict the idea of letting your baby run free and learn independence, and what if he doesn’t want to be in the playpen or cot? Cue a protest! I wrote this post about playpens back in May last year (oh those innocent times) and am still undecided about whether to get one; at the moment we are thinking more along the lines of adapting an appropriately safe but wider space for Pip to explore.
For our family, I am therefore tending towards a bit of baby-proofing within reason, so we can let Pip play independently without having to keep a permanent eagle eye on him; as for other people’s houses, well, I’ll just be extra vigilant as parents tend to naturally be anyway when their baby is in an unfamiliar place! My original post on baby safety, also from last May, quoted the NHS as stating-rather-obviously-but-still-worth-pointing-out “accidents are part of a child’s learning experience and some are unavoidable.” True, but let’s focus on the avoidable ones to start with!
Plug socket covers
Chances are, your house has electrical outlets at a very baby-unfriendly floor level (we do also have a pair in our kitchen randomly about five feet up the wall!) There are loads of variants of the classic plastic white plug socket cover out there. I have personal experience of painfully trying to pull these off at my in-laws’ house in order to plug my hairdryer in; we have therefore invested in ones from John Lewis that supposedly use the earth pin to remove the cover instead. They look a bit like breasts but should do the job:
Our house is tall and thin with lots of stairs. While this has been excellent for my post-baby workout, it is not so great when starting to think about stair gates. How many do we need, and where? Once the quantity has been established, the next question is whether to buy ones you screw into the wall or pressure fit, which work by pressing hard into the wall without the need to make any holes. It initially seemed a no-brainer to go for pressure fit (why would anyone choose to screw into the wall if you don’t have to?) until I started looking into the pros and cons and found this useful article in Which? that explains you should not use pressure fit at the top of the stairs, as the wider bar underneath could be a trip hazard:
We had a look at stair gates on our last visit to the Baby Show and the helpful man we spoke to recommended Argos as the place to buy them, but it’s probably worth looking at other outlets too such as Mothercare. The two main brands most people seem to have are Lindam and BabyDan, and ideally the gate should be one that you can easily open one-handed (your other hand is presumably balancing the baby). Gates are white, metal, wooden or mesh, and unless they are adjustable, you need to carefully measure the opening before buying one.
Cupboard locks can prevent access to poisonous chemicals, for example dishwasher tablets and other cleaning products – both of which are currently kept under our sink. Other cupboards might include less obviously hazardous but still potentially dangerous breakable things, such as glass or china items. The fridge or freezer is most probably a no-go area, as is the dishwasher (think of the knives!). Plus, you may wish to lock down the toilet seat so your baby doesn’t lick it or try to climb inside.
There seem to be lots of options out there to secure your cupboards and other home orifices from prying little fingers so that a responsible adult can still access them. Tesco has a wide range, as does Amazon, where if you really want to embrace baby-proofing as part of your decor you can buy these happy face locks:
Mothercare can also offer a few options, such as this more neutral universal lock:
There is a wide variety of designs so you need to take a look at your cupboards or the things you are trying to block off, and assess what shape they are and what would fit. Most of the locks have two features in common: they are cheap (£2-5) and unattractive.
Perhaps we will just move everything hazardous up to a higher level and pack the under-the-sink cupboards with tea towels. Or, still store the cleaning products etc under the sink but in a sealed box. The toilet seat dilemma I’ll have to think about!
This is when I start inclining more towards anti-baby-proofing. Life contains sharp corners; it seems unfair to pretend to babies that all tables are oval-shaped with rubbery bits on the ends. Nevertheless, it depends what level your table is at, and some may be perfectly positioned at eye level (one benefit of having a tall baby is that our coffee table will be well below Pip’s face once he learns to pull himself up). Better safe than sorry. Amazon seems to have the best selection in terms of design and colour, and you can also buy whole lengths of padding if your table has a particularly sharp edge. I would probably go for an attempt to match our table with corners such as these (only £2.06):
Shorten the blind cord. Don’t leave knives out. Reconsider that pond. The list of baby safety hazards goes on and on and on and on, and it’s impossible to list them all here – way too paranoia-inducing, and your home begins to look like one massive baby-trap. A great piece of advice I’ve heard is to get down on your hands and knees and look at the room from your baby’s point of view – you will then see hazards you may not have previously considered. I just did that in our living room and found three new things to baby-proof: the candles in our fireplace, our houseplant and most troubling of all, our TV!