The Comprehensive Guide to Nursery Safety

Planning a nursery can be overwhelming. All the gear, all those tiny baby items to procure! Add in the safety component, and it’s enough to make you want to just delete your registry and give up. But putting together a safe nursery doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a handy list of the most important items you should consider when prepping your little one’s room. And to make things even easier, the website Make Safe Happen lays out all the most important safety information.

Cord cleats. You don’t want baby to be able to access drape or blind cords, as they’re a strangulation hazard. Principal investigator for the Center for Injury Research and Policy Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., tells SheKnows that parents forget to cut the looped cord. “Snip the cord to get rid of a dangerous loop that can cause strangulation,” says McKenzie. “Use a cord-shortener to keep the cords high up and out of the child’s reach.” If you don’t want to cut or replace your window treatments, you can simply add inexpensive cord cleats. (I could not figure out what these things were called when I was trying to get them for my daughter’s nursery. They’re called cleats. Everyone learn from me.) Wrap the cords around the cleats to keep them tucked up and out of the way.

Electrical outlet plugs. This might be the most obvious bit of gear and the easiest thing on the list. These little plastic prongs go into electrical outlets so that little fingers can’t. Get extra plugs so that when some inevitably go missing you’ll have backups. If you want to be even more thorough, you can install self-closing outlets.

Baby gate/play yard. It’s nice to have a place to put baby where they can play safely, especially once they’re mobile. I usually arranged my “baby corral” in the living room, but the handy thing about these plastic panels is that you can set them up anywhere. This setup is ideal until you’re ready for your babe to go free-range. Remember playpens? Think of a play yard as the modern equivalent. North States makes a popular indoor/outdoor Superyard.

Fire alarm and CO monitor. The Onelink by First Alert Environment Monitor can detect high-level and low-level carbon monoxide as well as keep track of a room’s temperature and humidity. And it’s Wi-Fi-enabled. But a basic smoke/fire/CO alarm will also do the trick, like this one by Kidde.

Video monitor. The Summer Infant Baby Touch is my choice to keep an eye (and ear) on your babe when you can’t be in the room. (Side note: the latest model is the Panorama Monitor.) My kids are solidly in their toddler years, and you can have my monitor when you can pry it from my cold, dead hands! But it really does relieve anxiety to be able to hear and/or see what they’re up to. Plus, you can add cameras as you add to your family and toggle between them. Just remember to keep any cords installed away from baby. “One of the biggest safety tips that Summer Infant wants to ensure all parents and caregivers are aware of is that all cords should be out of reach of children, including the camera cord,” says Allison Katz, publicist for Summer Infant. “It should be more than 3 feet away from crib. All of their video monitors come with security clips should parents decide to mount the camera to the wall.”

Ceiling fan. If there isn’t a ceiling fan in the nursery, you might consider adding one. Recent studies have shown that turning on a ceiling fan in a baby’s room can reduce their risk of SIDS by 72 percent. Fans prevent pockets of carbon monoxide from forming, and they also reduce the risk that your child could overheat (both causes of SIDS). Of course, installing a ceiling fan is not always possible, so maybe have a portable fan (and/or air conditioner) on hand, especially for warmer months.

Furniture straps. Secure furniture to the wall! “Anchor furniture with L-brackets or safety straps,” says McKenzie. If your bookshelf, drawers, etc. didn’t come with something to strap it/attach it to the wall, you can order furniture wall straps. I learned this lesson the hard way when my 2-year-old daughter managed to pull her dresser over during nap time. Luckily, she was unharmed, but I almost had a heart attack! I never imagined the short, heavy dresser could be toppled, but it just goes to show how you’ll be surprised constantly at your child’s penchant for danger.

Toy bins and shelves. You’ll want to avoid storage with heavy lids or lids that aren’t easily opened. Better yet, just skip the lids. These open cubbies from Badger Basket are a great choice. Ikea also makes popular toy storage systems. Pay attention to how you arrange items on shelves. “Parents forget to stack shelves smartly,” says McKenzie. She recommends placing heavy items on lower shelves to make a bookcase, for instance, more stable.

Safe paint. Pick up an eco-friendly can of paint to avoid harmful chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) being emitted in the nursery. There are plenty of baby-safe paints on the market now, and many can be found at big-box stores like Home Depot. You’ll want a water-based, lead-free, zero-VOC formula. Some brands that make nursery-safe paint include Milk Paint, Valspar, and Sherwin-Williams.

Corner guards. Stick these suckers on any sharp corners because your baby will probably crash into them at some point. Just looking at a sharp corner when there’s a baby around makes me cringe. We replaced our cool, industrial-style coffee table for this reason; the stress of those metal corners just wasn’t worth it.

Cabinet locks. Secure any cabinets or drawers your little one shouldn’t get into with locks. Because they will get into them. And they will take everything out.

Crib. Make sure your crib meets current government safety standards. The slats shouldn’t be more than 2-3/8 inches apart, about the width of a soda can. Drop-side cribs are no longer considered safe. “A crib manufactured after 2011 will meet the latest safety standards and recommendations,” notes McKenzie. “No finials, no baby monitor cords near the crib, no night-lights within baby’s reach.” If you’re not getting an organic mattress, keep in mind that a used mattress (or at least an aired-out mattress) could have fewer chemicals being emitted. Any type of crib bumpers are a hazard, so get those — along with anything else except a fitted sheet and maybe a mattress cover — out of the crib. No blankets, no toys, nothing in there.

Sleep sacks. Blankets in the baby’s crib are a no-no. Rather than risk suffocation, dress little ones in wearable blankets, or Halo Sleepsacks for nighttime. There are many options in this department, some with swaddling incorporated. There’s the Magic Merlin suit (these worked pretty well for us when my babies started breaking out of their swaddle), the Woolino, Woombie and lightweight muslin Aden and Anais sleeping bags for warmer weather. McKenzie reminds parents, “Learn the ABC’s of safe sleep. Alone — make sure your child sleeps in a crib alone (without parents, siblings or pets). Back — place baby on his back at nap time and nighttime, every time. Crib — when it’s time to sleep, put your child into a bassinet, play yard or crib made in or after 2011.” Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics to learn more about infant safe-sleep recommendations.

Other tips: Make sure any wall hangings are properly secured, and never hang heavy items over baby’s crib. Don’t place the crib (or other climbable furniture) near a window or within grabbing distance of curtains. Think like a wily baby bent on destruction. If your nursery is not on the ground floor (or maybe even if it is) install window guards or stops. To be safe, sign up for baby product recall alerts on and add the poison help number to your phone contacts: 1-800-222-1222.

For more safety info, check the (free) app Make Safe Happen, recommends McKenzie. “There is great information on setting up a nursery and safety tips for every room in your home.” 

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Image: Yvonna Groom/Sheknows


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