There are lots of hazards around the home you may not notice until you become a parent – dangling cords, plastic bags, and hot drinks, to name just a few. Some of these don’t become a problem until your wee one is a bit more mobile, but some things are an immediate hazard.
Children can learn new skills overnight, so it’s a good idea to keep checking things from their point of view to make sure their environment is safe.
It’s important to remember the things that could harm you when you have your pēpi or child in your arms too (like loose mats that need to be secured, and slippery floors that should be dried, for example).
Preventing strangulation and suffocation
Suffocation is a contributing factor in SUDI - sudden unexpected death of an infant – and is the leading cause of unintentional death in babies under 12 months.
SUDI (sudden unexplained death in infancy) is defined as the sudden and unexplained death of an infant during sleep, and each year in New Zealand it affects 40 to 50 pēpi. In many cases, death or injury could be prevented by using safe sleep practices. To help you remember the messages, we use the acronym PEPE.
- Place baby in their own baby bed in the same room as their parent or caregiver for at least the first six months.
- Eliminate smoking in pregnancy, and protect baby with a smokefree whānau (family), whare (home) and waka (car).
- Position baby flat on their back to sleep, with their face clear of bedding or anything else.
- Encourage and support breastfeeding and the gentle handling of baby.
To keep your baby safe:
- remove drawstrings and cords on clothing – they can catch on things and pull tight around your baby’s neck
- make sure you take off your baby’s bib or hooded clothing before putting them down to sleep
- necklaces, hairclips and other jewellery are a choking and strangulation risk, so it’s better if they're not worn. This includes amber beads.
- always remove a toddler’s jacket before putting them in a car seat.
Bottles and dummies
Babies need to be able to spit things out if they can’t breathe, so:
- if you give them a bottle, make sure you hold them while they drink
- don’t use anything to keep a dummy in your young baby’s mouth.
Don’t use ribbons, strings or chains to attach a dummy to your child, because these things could strangle them.
Prams, strollers, portacots and child restraints
- Some prams and strollers (especially travel strollers and portacots) can fold in on themselves, even when a baby’s in them.
- Always check that harnesses are used correctly. If babies can slide down in a bouncer or car seat, they may get tangled in the straps. Using a five-point harness according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and keeping a close eye on your baby, can help prevent this from happening.
- Keep all stuffed toys out of prams, car seats, and beds.
- Be careful when using a pram cover as sun protection, especially between 10-4pm when the sun’s at its hottest. Covers can heat up the inside of the pram to dangerous temperatures.
- As your child gets more curious and explores, put locks on any airtight boxes your child could climb into, including large toy boxes and freezers.
- Be aware that rubber balloons can be inhaled once they’ve popped, and ribbons tied to balloons can wrap around a child’s neck.
- Tie a knot in plastic bags before storing them out of reach of children. If a child pulls a plastic bag or other plastic (like a dry-cleaning bag) over their head, or puts plastic wrap in or over their mouth, they may suffocate.
- Bumper pads may look attractive but they are another hazard for babies and little ones.
Your baby has to learn how to chew, swallow and breathe, all in the right order! Choking is a real danger for children– and it’s not just food that’s a choking hazard. Tamariki put anything in their mouth given half a chance – so always check their environment for anything they could choke on.
Anything smaller than a ping pong ball is a choking hazard– including small toys, parts of toys, coins and food.
Prepare your child’s food to their age and stage readiness and make sure they sit while they eat. Always actively supervise when they’re eating.
Regularly check around your house and remove things your child could put in their mouth, choke on and/or swallow.
Objects like button batteries are especially dangerous – if swallowed they can cause serious and life-threatening injuries in just 2-3 hours.
Never leave your pēpi alone in or near water, not even for a second.
Drowning is the third-leading cause of death from unintentional injury in children in New Zealand. Numbers of deaths and hospitalisations from drowning in children are highest for those aged 0 to four.
It only takes water the depth of your little finger (around 4cm) for a child to drown.
All tamariki need to be actively supervised by an adult at all times when they’re in or around any water, including baths, creeks, rivers, dams, paddling or swimming pools, spa pools, water features (fish ponds, fountains etc.), and buckets of water.
Never rely on older children to supervise younger ones in, on, or around water. They’re easily distracted and shouldn’t be given that responsibility.
Keep tamariki away from fire, heaters, ovens, hot surfaces, and hot liquids.
In New Zealand, burns are a leading cause of injury and death in children. Most non-fatal burn injuries in children are caused by contact with hot things like drinks, food, and fats, while most fatal injuries are caused by exposure to fire or flames. Nearly all burn injuries happen at home, especially in the kitchen, to children under the age of four.
Children’s skin is very thin. It burns more deeply than adult skin, and at lower temperatures.
Make sure your home has working smoke alarms.
The New Zealand Fire Service recommends installing a smoke alarm in every bedroom, hallway and living area. When you’re asleep, you lose your sense of smell. Don’t assume your smoke alarms are working. Press the button to check.
If you’re outside with your tamariki, keep them out of the sun as much as possible, especially from September to April between 10am and 4pm.
Protect your child’s skin from the sun with SPF50 sunscreen, long-sleeved cool clothing, sunglasses, and a sunhat with a wide brim.
Babies’ skin is sensitive, so try a small amount of sunscreen (the size of a pea) on a small area of skin (inside their upper arm, for example) to test it.
Around the house
Your child’s bedroom
- Your child’s sleep space should be safe and appropriate to their age. This may be a secure cot, or in a bed with a safety rail.
- It’s okay for toddlers and older children to sleep with their security items – their blankie or special toys – as long as they’re small and can’t smother them. Always check for choking hazards which may become sharp, loose or come off when sucked.
- If your child is in a cot, the cot must meet the requirements of safety standard AS/NZS 2172:2003. If you are unsure when you buy the cot, have a chat to an expert in the store when possible.
- A tight-fitting mattress will reduce the risk of pēpi getting caught between the mattress and the side of the cot.
- Make sure their cot or bed is away from items with strings or ties that could wind up around your child’s neck. Anything they could reach, like hanging mobiles, blind cords, curtains, pictures or wall hangings, could be a safety hazard. Blind or curtain cords should be wrapped around cleats or safety devices attached to the wall at least 1.6m off the floor.
If your child can climb out of the cot, make sure the cot mattress is on the lowest possible setting. If it’s already on the lowest setting and they’re still trying to – or can – get out of the cot, it may be time to move them to a bed with a side rail.
If furniture tips and falls, it can badly injure your child. Make sure:
- your furniture is sturdy – your child shouldn’t be able to pull it over. Always check it. You should anchor furniture like book shelves, cabinets and wardrobes to the wall.
- you strap or brace flat-screen televisions to the wall.
- you pad sharp corners of furniture with foam or corner protectors.
- Use power point protectors/safety plugs so your child can’t stick anything in a power point.
- Keep sharp objects out of reach of tamariki.
- Put stickers on glass windows and doors at your child’s eye level so they don’t hurt themselves.
- Cupboards, doors, and door hinges can hurt children’s fingers. Using door guards can help protect them from injuries.
Children put things they find in their mouths.
If you think your child has been poisoned, call the New Zealand National Poisons Centre immediately on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).
Dial 111 if your child is unconscious or having trouble breathing, you’re worried that your child looks very ill, or if the Poisons Centre has advised you to. Do not try to make your child vomit or give food or liquid until you have been given advice.
Poisoning is the fifth-leading cause of non-fatal unintentional injury in children aged 0 to 14. Four in every five hospitalisations from unintentional poisoning were children aged four years and under.
Once your child is mobile, they’re likely to explore their environment. This means you need to put child locks on any cupboards your baby could reach and pull dangerous things out of.
Many tamariki are poisoned when they find and drink or eat common medicines and household chemicals.
More young children are poisoned by liquid Paracetamol than any other medicine.
Follow the instructions to make sure you give the correct amount of the correct strength of Paracetamol to your child.
Children’s furniture and equipment
Safe clothing, toys, and equipment will help protect your child. There are product safety standards for:
- prams and strollers
- car seats
- children's nightwear – check the fire hazard labelling, and choose clothing with the white label
- child restraints
- children's toys – remember anything small enough to fit into a match box is a choking hazard. Make sure your child’s toys are age-appropriate, and regularly check them over for chipped paint, broken or sharp bits.
- household cots.
Keeping kids safe - product standards
You could make a list of emergency numbers to keep near your telephone, including numbers for: