When my partner first told me she was pregnant, I was ecstatic. I personally think that’s one of the few moments in life when someone really experiences complete and untainted joy. The words ‘you’re going to be a father’ are rivalled by very few others. Seven months down the road, however, I think it’s fair to say those emotions had become overwhelmed by a singular just as powerful one. Fear.
I’m sure many of you can relate to this or have at least seen it in your other half, but as the due date gets ever closer, the more panic starts to take over. I have to confess I had a bit of a mid-life crisis in my twenties. It was probably not enjoyable to witness.
Much to the surprise of my wife, I went on a huge spending spree buying anything and everything baby related. This probably would have been okay, but I went slightly overboard. Cupboards, wardrobes, and tables soon began to resemble strange objects you’d expect to discover at Disneyland as I piled them up with toys and colourful bouncers. In almost every room, space quickly disappeared. Anything that looked like a sharp edge was covered by a soft rubber cap. Door stops and plug socket covers roamed free and would turn up in the strangest places, on one occasion I even found one in my work briefcase. I think it surprised my boss just as much as me when I opened it up in front of him.
Then the big day finally arrived and as my baby grew into a toddler and finally a mischievous little girl, I realised there was never any reason for me to worry that much.
Don’t get me wrong, the threat of safety hazards for young children in the home is certainly real, over 2 million children in the UK experience a household injury every year that results in a trip emergency services. However, there is no need to go crazy with gadgets and plans. A lot of child safety is common sense and I want to share my experience with you so that you can decide what steps are best to take for baby proofing your house.
Finding the right Room in Your Home
How much space is there? Where is the window located? Is it upstairs or downstairs?
Maybe you’re like me and my wife, you don’t have a choice where your baby will be sleeping, as you only have a one-bedroom home but if you can choose, do it wisely.
Remember, you are going to be spending A LOT of time going to and from this room. If it’s up 3 flights of stairs you’re going to regret it. If it has a low window or one near the cot you’re going to have to make sure nothing can get in or out through it. You’re also going to want to make sure that fingers can’t be caught in it. We got some restrictors and they worked great.
Now I’m going to ‘nerd-out’ a little bit. Because I never cared about doors until I had a kid. Now that’s all changed. A door is not just a door. The door you chose to put in your child's bedroom will either take you to Narnia or Hell. Different styles definitely have different advantages. I wish I’d known this during the pregnancy.
At first, we kept the standard door in the bedroom, it was probably the one that was there when we bought the house, but after just weeks I noticed the problem. It swung inwards. When our baby was first born this was a problem as we didn’t have much space and it would knock things over waking her up. It was also noisy to open and close. You don’t know how loud a door closing is until you’ve just spent 4 hours rocking a screaming baby to sleep.
Finally, we had the problem that we wanted to leave it slightly ajar so as to be able to hear her if there were any issues. Door stops left awful marks in the carpet and were a trip hazard, not using them meant a small draft would slam the door, often waking the baby.
It was driving me mad. So I went online and decided to get a bi-fold door. Installing it was a pain, but no sooner had I put the final screw into the wall did I notice the difference.
This new door style gave me more space, didn’t slam and could be easily left slightly open. Internal bi-fold door designs are not only great for babies but as my little girl grew into a toddler I didn’t have to worry about opening it too quickly and finding out she was behind it.
My most important tip is probably this, be careful where you get anything for your baby. Paying that little bit extra is definitely worth it. Cheap products can sometimes be faulty and dangerous. Hand me downs can often be invisibly damaged or contaminated with mould and other nasties. Research what you should or shouldn’t accept from your friends.
As your child gets older safety gates and plug socket covers are a good investment but aren’t essential for when your baby is first born. Plug socket covers are cheap, so maybe at first just get a few for the low-down plug sockets in your baby’s regular rooms. If you put them in every socket charging your phone will become a living nightmare.
Those little rubber cubes for corners are also great. Just don’t be like me and buy hundreds, they can also become annoying after time and aren’t even useful everywhere. The same can be said for cupboard locks. Slowly install them as your child grows otherwise even simple tasks like getting cereal in the mornings can become time-consuming and drawn out.
The ultimate piece of advice is not to add things, but to take them away. If you have the luxury of time before your child's birth, take a quick tour of your house and lock up anything you think could be sharp or dangerous. Well, don’t literally lock them away, just put them in drawers that are high off the ground and nowhere near anywhere you put your baby.
Parents often joke about it, but kids will seriously try to eat anything, and I mean anything. Our youngest went through a stage of eating plant pot dirt. Literal mud. He loved it. As soon as he could crawl off he went as fast as he could straight to find some soil to munch on.
It was awful, but we quickly learned that for a few year's plant pots had to be high off the ground or they would end up as lunch.
The lesson we got from that rather funny situation was to analyse all the ground level items we had and ask ourselves ‘could we eat this if we tried to?’ If the answer was something we had to think about, up on a shelf it went.
The other thing we noticed was that kids love sticking their fingers in places they shouldn’t. Holes in the floorboards and gaps between walls all needed filling, even the garden gate needed some adjustments. If there are any small holes in your home, I can guarantee your child will think about putting their finger in it at some point, so think ahead and plug them with something.
If you are expecting or have a young child, you’ve more than likely read or heard about how to deal with things like how to run a bath to the right temperature. What you probably don’t know is that the bathroom offers a lot more dangers than even the kitchen.
Simple things like always putting the toilet seat down are essential. When they’re younger babies will often pull down on things just because they can and if it’s on a toilet lid, it’s not going to end well.
Make sure you clean up any water off the floor after a shower, what is just a small dirty puddle on your floor to you, to a child it can look like a great opportunity to have a splash or worse yet, a drink. The same goes for soap bars, shampoos, and toilet brushes. Both can seem like a lot of fun to a small child and if they’re not trying to eat it, rest assured your house will quickly resemble a modern art gallery. Unfortunately, soap squiggles won’t improve the value of your home and are particularly frustrating to get off.
I think the golden rule, we learned as a couple would be that nothing is sacred. When you are willing to get rid of things completely just to ensure that your child Is safer, you’re moving in the right direction. If you ever find yourself building a ‘baby-proof zone’ just to protect your trophy cabinet from dirty fingers, it might just be time to reconsider your priorities. I promise you now, keeping your home safe from babies is just as hard as keeping your child safe, so make some sacrifices now while it’s easier, because the longer you leave it the harder it will get.