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Baby's First Year

Prevention, Alertness Will Help Keep Baby Safe

October 26, 1998|KATHLEEN O. RYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A kiss may be the priceless cure for the many boo-boos in a child's life, but there is much greater value in prevention and watchfulness when it comes to keeping your baby safe and sound.

According to the National Safe Kids campaign, one out of every four children--14 million a year--sustains injuries serious enough to require medical treatment. In babies under age 1, the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths is airway obstruction, followed by motor vehicle accidents, choking, fire and burns, and drowning.

Appropriate supervision is a key part of the safety solution. Many accidents happen in the presence of adults, simply because someone turned his back for only a moment and there wasn't prevention in the first place.

"Most injuries are predictable and preventable," says Dr. Murray Katcher, chairman for the committee on injury and poison prevention for the American Academy of Pediatrics and professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. "Babies' developmental skills change constantly during the first year, which puts them at new risks all the time. The key is to combine supervision with a safe environment."

Make sure baby equipment meets recommended safety standards, says Ann Brown, chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"Parents have to be especially careful with secondhand products," she says. "Check to make sure the product you or your day care provider uses has not been recalled."

Experts say parents must survey their baby's world with a keen eye toward safety. Following are the leading dangers to baby and what to look for:

Falls

Falls are the most common reason babies are brought to the emergency room, says Dr. James Seidel, chairman of California Pediatric emergency medicine for the academy.

A lack of barriers, supervision or restraints results in falls from changing tables, out of shopping carts, down stairways, off balconies. Many babies are even dropped by older siblings.

"An 8-year-old sibling should not be caring for a baby," Seidel says. Infant walkers have become a huge safety issue. According to the product safety commission, 14,300 children younger than 15 months have been treated in hospital emergency rooms due to falls in walkers. The pediatric academy recommends walkers be banned.

"Not only are they dangerous, but they do not help babies learn to walk," Katcher says.

Most baby walkers have been recalled. Requirements for new walkers include gripping mechanisms that stop the walker at the edge of a step and a width that exceeds standard doorways. The product safety commission recommends using stationary activity centers instead.

Events such as the "Baby Walker Round-Up" hosted by the National Safe Kids Campaign take in old walkers and exchange them for new stationary play stations while supplies last. (For more information, call the Loma Linda Safe Kids Coalition at [909] 824-4704.)

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Though all 50 states have child safety seat laws, the majority of infant deaths and injuries from car accidents are due to inappropriate or lack of car seat use.

Experts believe that 80% of children placed in safety seats are improperly restrained.

Car seat instructions aren't always clear, Seidel says.

"Many parents do not have the car seat tethered in the car properly or have the baby in the seat properly. An infant's head should never be able to flop around."

Experts say infants must be in a rear-facing infant safety seat until they're at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds. An infant should never be put in the front passenger seat with an air bag.

Parents should not only understand proper car seat use, but also make sure an infant car seat has not been recalled. Car seats that have been in even one accident should not be used again.

Suffocation and Choking

Airway obstruction is the leading killer of infants. According to Brown, soft bedding contributes to 900 infant deaths on average per year, yet it is a danger most parents don't think of.

"Soft bedding includes any bedding that can mold itself around a baby's mouth, including comforters, pillows, sheepskins and stuffed animals," Brown says. "The safest sleeping environment for babies is lying on their backs on a firm flat mattress in a crib."

Other measures that guard against suffocation and choking include:

* No loose or missing hardware on cribs. Leave nothing a baby's clothing could get caught on.

* Crib mattresses should fit tightly.

* Do not let infants sleep with parents who can roll over on them.

* Use age-appropriate toys.

* Check items for possible choking hazard with a no-choke test tube made by Safety First and available at most kids stores. Anything that fits within the tube, is too small for a baby.

* Remove hood and neck drawstrings from infant clothing.

* Do not put pacifier on strings around a baby's neck.

* Tie up all window blind and drapery cords. Never hang anything above a crib with string longer than 7 inches.

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