Each year 40,000 under-5s are admitted to hospital following accidents, and lots of these accidents are preventable.
Here's how to protect your baby or toddler from some of the commonest accidents that affect young children.
Food is the most common thing for babies and toddlers to choke on. Young children may also put small objects in their mouths that could cause choking.
- If you give your baby a bottle, always hold the bottle and your baby while they're feeding.
- Keep small objects, such as buttons, coins and small toy parts, out of your baby's reach.
- Once your baby has started on solid food, always cut it up into small pieces. Babies can choke on something as small as a grape (these should be cut lengthways). Raw jelly cubes can be a choking hazard. If you're making jelly, make sure you always follow the manufacturers' instructions.
- Do not give young children hard foods, such as boiled sweets or whole nuts.
- Keep small, silver button batteries well away from small children. As well as being a choking hazard, they can cause severe internal burns if swallowed.
- Stay with your child when they're eating. Encourage them to sit still while they eat, as running around while eating could make them choke.
- Keep toys designed for older children away from babies and toddlers, as they may have small parts.
- Do not use pillows or duvets with babies under the age of 1, as they can suffocate if their face gets smothered. They won't be able to push the duvet away. Babies should always sleep on their back with their feet at the foot of their cot. Tuck the blanket in across their chest and under their arms and keep the cot free from bumpers, pillows and soft toys
- If you carry your baby in a sling, follow the TICKS advice to reduce the risk of suffocation. Keep your baby T ight, I n view, C lose enough to kiss, K eep their chin off their chest, with a S upported back.
- Keep plastic bags, including nappy bags, out of reach and sight of young children. Keep them away from babies' cots, so that they cannot reach them and put them over their nose and mouth.
- Do not tie a dummy to your baby's clothes, as the tie or ribbon could strangle them.
- Always keep curtain or blind cords tied up out of reach – with a cleat hook for example – so that they're well out of your baby or toddler's reach. Unsecured blind and curtain ropes can quickly wrap themselves round a baby or toddler's neck. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has a video on blind safety you can view online.
- Do not leave any type of rope or cord lying around, including dressing gown cords and drawstring bags.
- If the gaps between banisters or balcony railings are more than 6.5cm (2.5 inches) wide, cover them with boards or safety netting. Small babies may be able to squeeze their bodies through, but not their heads.
- Keep toys and garden play equipment well away from washing lines, so that children cannot stand on them and reach the line.
- Avoid using cot bumpers in your baby's cot – they are a hazard for choking, suffocation and strangulation. See more about safe sleep for babies.
Falls in babies
Babies soon learn to wriggle and kick. It's not long before they can roll over, which means that they can roll off beds and changing tables.
Here are some things you can do to stop your baby being injured:
- Change your baby's nappy on a changing mat on the floor.
- Do not leave your baby unattended on a bed, sofa or changing table, even for a second, as they could roll off.
- Always keep bouncing cradles or baby car seats on the floor, rather than on a table or kitchen worktop, as your baby's wriggling could tip it over the edge.
- Hold on to the handrail when carrying your baby up and down stairs, in case you trip. Make sure the stairs are free of toys and other trip hazards.
- If you get your baby a walker, make sure it complies with British Standard BS EN 1273:2005. Older walkers may tip over more easily and harm your baby.
- Watch where you're putting your feet while carrying your baby. It's easy to trip over something like a toy.
- Use a 5-point harness to secure your baby in a highchair or pram every time you put them in.
When your baby starts crawling
Once they learn to crawl, babies may try to climb onto things, such as sofas, which increases the risk of falling.
Here are some injury prevention tips for parents of crawling babies:
- Fit safety gates to stop your baby getting onto stairs. Close the gates properly after you go through them.
- If the gaps between banisters or balcony railings are more than 6.5cm (2.5 inches) wide, cover them with boards or safety netting.
- Keep low furniture away from windows. Have windows fitted with locks or safety catches that restrict the opening to less than 6.5cm (2.5 inches), to stop babies climbing out. Make sure adults know where the keys are kept in case of a fire.
- Remove cot toys and cot bumpers, as a baby can climb on them and may fall out of the cot.
Falls in toddlers
When babies start to walk, they're unsteady on their feet, but can move very quickly. They tend to trip and fall.
Here are some injury prevention tips for parents of toddlers:
- Carry on using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs until your infant is at least 2 years old.
- Start to teach your child how to climb stairs, but never let them go up and down on their own (even 4 year olds may need some help).
- Do not let children under 6 sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed, as they can easily fall out.
- Keep low furniture away from windows and ensure that windows are fitted with locks or safety catches. Make sure adults know where the keys are kept in case of fire.
- Carry on using a 5-point harness when your child is in their highchair or pushchair.
- Keep scissors, knives and razors out of children's reach.
- Special devices can stop doors from closing properly, preventing your child's fingers getting trapped. At night, remember to close doors to stop any potential fires from spreading.
- If furniture has sharp corners, use corner protectors to prevent your child from hurting their head.
- Medicines are the cause of over 70% of hospital admissions for poisoning in under-5s. Common painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen are the main culprits. Keep all medicines locked away or high up out of reach and sight.
- Keep cleaning products high up out of reach, including those for the toilet. If this isn't possible, fit safety catches to low cupboard doors. Choose cleaning products that contain a bittering agent. This makes them taste nasty, so children are less likely to swallow them.
- Liquid laundry capsules can cause poisoning. Make sure the capsules are stored out of reach and sight. They are often packaged in child-friendly colours.
- Make sure bottle tops and lids are always firmly closed when not in use. Remember that child-resistant packaging is not child-proof – it just slows children down.
- Keep e-cigarettes and their refills out of sight and reach of babies and toddlers. Nicotine is poisonous and can be very dangerous for young children.
- Check your garden for poisonous plants. Teach your children not to eat anything they pick outdoors until they've checked with an adult. For more information, see Plant dangers in the garden and countryside.
Burns and scalds
A baby's skin burns more easily than an adult's. This means you need to take extra care to avoid burns and scalds.
- At bathtime, run cold water into the bath first, then add some hot. Check the temperature with your elbow before your child gets in, and stay with them the whole time they are in the bath.
- Babies and toddlers will grab at brightly coloured objects, such as mugs. If you're having a hot drink, put it down well out of reach before you hold your baby. Keep hot drinks well away from all young children. A hot drink can still scald 15 minutes after it was made.
- After warming a bottle of formula, shake the bottle well and test the temperature by placing a few drops on the inside of your wrist before feeding. It should feel lukewarm, not hot.
- Avoid heating up bottles of formula in a microwave. Use a bottle warmer or jug of hot water instead.
- Toddlers will play with anything they can reach, so keep matches and lighters out of young children's sight and reach.
- Use a kettle with a short or curly flex to stop it hanging over the edge of the work surface, where it could be grabbed.
- When cooking, use the rings at the back of the cooker and turn saucepan handles towards the back, so they cannot be grabbed by little fingers.
- When you've finished using your iron or hair straighteners, put them out of reach while they cool down. Make sure your child cannot grab the flex while you're using them.
- Keep button batteries well away from babies and small children, as they can cause severe internal burns if swallowed.
- Liquid laundry capsules can cause chemical burns if the liquid gets into a child's eyes, nose or mouth. Keep them out of sight and out of reach.
Babies can drown in as little as 5cm (2 inches) of water. Drowning is one of the commonest causes of child death – it's often silent, so you won't necessarily hear any noise or struggle.
- Baths are the commonest place for babies and young children to drown. Stay with your baby or toddler the whole time they're in the bath. Never leave them for a moment, even if there's an older brother or sister in the bath with them.
- If you use a bath seat, remember that it's not a safety device. You still need to stay with your baby all the time.
- Empty the bath as soon as you've taken your child out.
- If you have a garden pond, fence it off, fill it in or securely cover it.
- Watch toddlers when they're in a paddling pool or playing near water. Empty the paddling pool straight after use and then store away.
- Make sure your garden is secure so that your child cannot get into neighbouring gardens, where there may be ponds or other drowning hazards.
Domestic fires are a significant risk to children. Smoke from a fire can kill a child in a few minutes. Chip pans and cigarettes are the most common causes.
- Never fill a chip pan more than one-third full of oil, or get a deep fat fryer instead. If a chip pan does catch fire, switch off the hob, leave the room, close the door and call the fire brigade.
- Extinguish and dispose of cigarettes, cigars and pipes carefully, particularly at night or if you are tired.
- Fit smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test them every week and change the batteries every year.
- At night, switch off electrical items before you go to bed and close all doors to contain a potential fire.
- Work out an escape plan for your family and tell your children what to do in case of a fire. Practise the plan regularly.
- If you have an open fireplace, always use a fireguard that encloses the whole fireplace and make sure it's attached to the wall. Do not place anything on it or hang things from it.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.
Broken glass can cause serious cuts. The following advice may help you keep your child safe.
- Use safety glass at a low level, such as in doors and windows. This shatters less easily than normal glass. Look for the British Standards (BS) kitemark.
- Make existing glass safer by applying a shatter-resistant film.
- When buying furniture that includes glass, make sure it has the BS kitemark.
- Always dispose of broken glass quickly and safely – wrap it in newspaper before throwing it in the bin.
- If you own a greenhouse or cold frame (a structure to protect plants from the winter cold), make sure it has safety glazing or is fenced off from children.
- Do not let a baby or toddler hold anything made of glass.
The following websites also provide more information on preventing accidents in babies and toddlers: