The Child’s Room


When a new baby is on the way, many new parents take great pride in decorating and furnishing the room for the new arrival. Quite often we forget, or just don’t realize, the potential hazards that may lurk in the old crib that your parents gave to you, or the change table that your uncle made. Keep in mind some of the safety tips listed below.


1.   The Crib


Cribs built before the Fall of 1986 do not meet Canadian safety standards. There have been deaths in older style cribs due to the result of the mattress support giving way. Mattresses were formerly supported by S-hooks. If a child bounced in the crib, or if the support was pushed up on from underneath by another child or pet it was possible for the mattress support to come off the S-hooks, resulting in the collapse of the support. In newer cribs, the mattress support is bolted in place.


·        If possible, try to obtain a new crib which meets the most recent safety standards. Make sure the mattress is flat and firm and that all mattress supports are firmly in place. Test the crib by shaking, pounding on the mattress, and on the mattress support from underneath. Make sure the bolts securing the mattress supports are tight.



A family bought a second-hand crib that was described as being “in good condition” at the time of purchase. As it happened, it had been damaged during assembly. A seven-month old child became trapped between moveable side rail and the side of the mattress and was asphyxiated.



·        Mattresses should not be more than 6 inches (15.5 cm) deep and should have a firm surface. The space between the mattress and the side of the crib should be no more than 1 3/16 inches (3 cm). Confirm this by pushing the mattress into one corner and measuring the gap between the mattress and the opposite corner.


·        Don’t keep the crib or change table under a window. A misdirected ball or rock could shower your child with glass. And remember that window blind cords pose a strangulation hazard.


·        Check on the baby often to make sure she is still in her crib or playpen.


·        When changing sheets or moving the crib, check the crib again for loose or damaged parts.


Babies have very weak neck muscles. This means they are unable to lift their head when they are lying on their stomach. Suffocation is a serious risk to newborns. Here are some tips for crib safety:


·        Avoid using a plastic sheet on the crib mattress.


·        Never let a baby sleep with a pillow.


·        Never leave a bib around an infant’s neck during naps.


·        Don’t put the baby to sleep on a waterbed. Infants have suffocated in the soft, water-filled mattress. There are also other problems with waterbeds; babies have been bounced off the bed by siblings, or been trapped between the side of the mattress and the bed frame.


·        Help prevent suffocation by keeping large stuffed animals, pillows, and heavy blankets out of the crib.


·        A baby’s head can be hurt if it gets banged against the sides of a crib. Soft crib bumpers are a good idea to help protect your baby’s head. Make sure the crib bumpers are firmly secured to the railings and that they fit snugly against the slats of the crib so that the head cannot be caught between the crib sides and the mattress.


·        Make sure the ties or fasteners on the bumpers are kept short.


·        The crib railings should always be up and in the locked position.


·        When the baby can stand up, make sure the mattress is in the lowest position and that there is nothing in the crib that the baby can stand on (such as stuffed toys or bumper pads) to enable her to crawl over the top of the railing.


To reduce the chance of strangulation in the crib:


·        Never hang strings, cords, or ribbons from the crib.


·        Keep your child’s crib away from drapes, blind cords, and lamps.


·        Never harness or tie your child to the crib.


·        When the baby can sit up, remove all mobiles. If you leave them in place, the child will be able to reach them, and if they are pulled down, another strangulation and choking hazard is introduced.


·        The railings should always be kept up and in a locked position to prevent the child from falling out. If the railing is not in a locked position, it could slide down on the child’s body.


·        When your child reaches 35 inches (87 cm) tall, she is too big for a crib.



2.   The Change Table


When you are at home, a change table can make changing diapers much easier; in fact, change tables are now a standard part of nursery furnishings. But care must be taken when you are changing diapers. Many injuries have happened where a child has fallen off a change table onto the floor. As we all know, babies have a tendency to squirm and wriggle about, not just when they are being changed, but whenever they are not sleeping. Falls have also happened from kitchen tables, couches, and beds.


·        The table should be sturdy and checked for loose parts on a regular basis.


·        A good change table should have a strap to help secure the child to the table. Make sure the strap is done up, but do not rely solely on this strap. Always keep a hand on the child when he is on the table.


·        Do not leave the child alone on the table for any reason, even to answer the phone. You might consider a cordless telephone to help remove the temptation to leave a child alone on the table.


·        Place the table away from drapes, blind cords, or any other objects that could be a potential danger. Keep one side of the table against the wall.


·        Make sure all parts of the table are in good repair. Tears in the vinyl padding of a change table can cause scrapes to a baby’s delicate skin. Torn pieces of vinyl may be pulled free and put into little mouths.


·        Objects such as cans of baby powder and containers of diapers should not be stored on shelves over the table because it is too easy to drop them on the baby. Most change tables have a shelf underneath the changing platform for storage of these articles.


·        Make sure these objects are not left on the change table.




3.   The Diaper Pail


There have been fatalities when small children have fallen head first into a diaper pail and drowned. Diaper pails should have a lock on the lid to prevent a toddler from opening the cover.


Another possible danger is the potentially poisonous deodorants used in diaper pails. The deodorant should not be accessible to the child. Many people put bleach in their diaper pails; this can be dangerous if a child inhales the bleach fumes. Serious eye damage can also result if a child splashes the bleach. Once your toddler becomes mobile the diaper pail should be stored in an area which is off limits to him.



4.   The Playpen


Playpens can be an asset to a busy parent. The child is confined to a relatively small space without being isolated from the rest of the home or garden activity. Playpens are designed to be a mini-environment that will keep a child safe and content while freeing a caregiver to work nearby. However, there are some potential hazards in using playpens. Here are a few tips to make sure your baby’s playpen is safe.


·        Never leave a child alone or unsupervised in a playpen. Keep the playpen in sight at all times.


·        Make sure the playpen meets current safety standards. Health Protection Branch, Product Safety Bureau of Health Canada introduced regulations in 1976 to help reduce playpen injuries.


·        The playpen should be assembled properly each time it is set up. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure all parts that lock into place are locked and that they will not collapse. Make sure all sides are up when the child is in the playpen.


·        The mattress or floor padding should be designed to that the child is unable to lift it up and get trapped between the floor and the padding. Do not add a second mattress because the infant or toddler could find herself trapped between the two.


·        To reduce the chance of strangulation, do not place the playpen close to drapes, drapery cords, blinds, etc. Also keep the playpen away from electrical outlets, fireplaces, fans, or anything else that could be a danger.


·        Clothes, diapers, or blankets left hanging on the side of the playpen could be pulled into the pen by the baby, and pose a suffocation hazard.


·        Don’t string toys across the playpen because a child could possibly get tangled up in the strings. If a child can reach toys on a string, there is a danger.


·        Check for loose parts, or tears in the mattress or vinyl siding. Small pieces of vinyl may be torn off, partially ingested, and can potentially cause choking.


·        To reduce a playpen from moving too much, it should have no more than two wheels.


·        If you have a playpen with mesh sides, check for tears or cuts which could allow heads, feet, or hands to get caught. Fatalities have been caused from strangulation in older style mesh playpens when buttons on a child’s clothes were caught in one of the holes of the mesh. When a child falls down, the snagged clothes can tighten around his neck. Strangulation may result.


·        Once your baby is able to stand, large stuffed animals or other toys can be used as stepping stones by the child to assist in an escape.


·        When your child is large enough to get out of the playpen, it no longer serves its purpose.



5.   Baby Strollers


Technically, baby strollers are used more outdoors than in the child’s room. But because it is a common piece of equipment associated with the early childhood years, I have included it here along with playpens.


A baby stroller is used in all types of weather and in all types of conditions. Strollers are thrown into the trunks of motor vehicles, dropped, and dragged over concrete. They carry loads they were never designed to carry. With all this wear and tear, regular safety inspections are important. There are many types and designs of strollers on the market. When choosing one, your child’s safety should be your main consideration. A few things you should observe when choosing a stroller are:


·        Make sure the stroller comes with the manufacturer’s directions and follow them carefully.


·        Choose a stroller that matches the size and age of the child who will use it.


·        Never leave a child unattended in a stroller – not even for a minute!


·        The stroller should be stable. If shopping bags or diaper bags are hung from the handle, the stroller’s stability will be affected greatly.


·        Make sure the stroller has proper restraining straps and that you use them. Injuries can happen if a child stands up and falls out of the stroller.


·        The stroller should have a reliable locking mechanism to prevent unintentional folding. Make sure the brakes are in good working order.


·        Don’t let older siblings push the stroller with younger children in it unless they are mature enough to understand the dangers. Always supervise these situations.



6.   Youth Beds and Bunk Beds


The Health Protection Branch, Product Safety Bureau of Health Canada advised consumers that the upper bunk of bunk beds may be hazardous when they are used for children under six years of age. There have been four reported deaths in Canada in the past eight years involving young children using the upper bunk (Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada Handout, March 6, 1990).


·        Children under 6 years of age should not be allowed on the top bunk.


·        When purchasing a bunk bed or a toddler bed, look for consumer warnings on the product and follow them carefully. Check the bed regularly for loose or broken parts.


·        When purchasing bunk beds make sure there are railings on all sides. Follow manufacturer’s instructions when assembling a bunk bed or toddler bed.


·        The mattress should fit snugly on all interior sides of the bed.


·        The bunk bed ladder should be in good condition. Ladders are there for a purpose. Teach your children that the ladder should always be used to go up and down from the top bunk.


·        Make a family rule: no jumping or bouncing on the bed!


·        The wall side of the bunk bed or a toddler bed should also have a side rail. Falls between the wall and the mattress have led to suffocation or strangulation.


·        Obviously there is a serious risk when a young child is on a top bunk that has no guard rails. Similarly, if guard rails are too high, the child could possible slip between the guard rail and the mattress. This could lead to suffocation if the child’s head becomes trapped and does not pass completely through the opening; his face might be forced into the mattress.


In the U.S.A., between 1985 and 1990 the Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of over 250 infants up to twelve months of age, who suffocated on adult or youth beds. In most cases infants became wedged between the mattress and the frame or the wall. In addition, some infants suffocated while sleeping next to another sleeping person, who rolled onto the infant while still asleep. The same problems surfaced with both kinds of beds. In addition, some suffocated while in a stomach-down position in the depression of waterbeds.


·        When an adult-sized twin bed is being adapted for use by a toddler, portable railings may be added to the sides. Make sure that these railings follow manufacturer’s installation instructions and that they are securely attached to the sides of the bed. Examine the appropriateness of the railing: are there gaps between the top of the mattress and the railing that could entrap the head or the body of a child?


·        Never leave infants on an adult or youth bed, regardless of whether the bed is a mattress-type or a waterbed. Place infants in a crib that meets federal safety standards.


·        Infants can suffocate while sleeping when they become trapped between the mattress and the frame or the mattress and the wall. If an infant becomes wedged facedown on an adult or toddler mattress or sinks into a waterbed mattress, she can also suffocate.


·        Choose the bed that is most appropriate for your child’s stage of growth and development.



Copyright 1995 Safety Health Publishing Inc.


Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic and is the author of the best selling book “Kids for Keeps: Preventing Injuries to Children”. Martin delivers keynote presentations dealing with injury prevention. His talks are funny, but still have a strong underlying message. Visit his website at