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It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: Your peacefully sleeping baby is snatched from her crib in the middle of the night by an unknown kidnapper. By now, you’ve probably heard about last week’s mysterious disappearance of 10-month-old Missouri baby Lisa Irwin. With police and FBI agents investigating tips and trying to recreate the possible kidnapping to come up with some leads and clues, the case is drawing more and more national attention.
When this sort of news makes national headlines, as a parent myself, I know I can’t help but give in to my racing mind. If something like this could happen to the Irwins, could it happen to us?
“The odds of your baby being kidnapped are really low,” assures Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.” In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are a little over 100 stereotypical kidnapping cases per year, in which a child is abducted by a stranger and murdered, ransomed, or kept for a significant period of time. In other words, you’re just as likely to hit the lottery or get struck by lightening than for your child to be kidnapped.
Instead of stressing over baby snatching, here are seven way more common baby safety hazards to be aware of, and tips on how to keep your baby safe…
Choking: Choking is a leading cause of death among children, especially those aged 3 years or younger, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics. Avoid giving kids this age the following foods unless they're cut up into small pieces (the size of your pinkie nail): hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes, and peanut butter. Avoid hard candy, popcorn and nuts altogether and watch out for nonfood choking hazards like small toys.
Drowning: “More kids die in homes where there are pools than homes where there are guns,” points out Skenazy, citing research from the book Freakonomics. What's more, almost 30 percent of deaths by unintentional injury in children ages 1 to 4 were the result of drowning, according to the CDC. And don’t think a pool is the only water danger -- leaving your infant or toddler unattended in a bathtub for even a minute can be deadly, since kids can drown in less than 2 inches of water. So fence off your pools, don’t walk away from the tub, and stay within arm's reach of those little guppies!
Suffocation or SIDS: Pillows, stuffed animals or other objects in the baby's crib or sleep area may seem harmless, but don’t be fooled, says Jennifer Walker RN BSN, mother of 3, and co-founder of MomsOnCall.com. “Even the adorable, stylish crib bumpers can be entirely too thick. The only thing that needs to be in the crib is the baby and a thin bumper,” she says. That, and putting baby to bed on her back, are your best bets for preventing SIDS (which occurs in one to two of every 1,000 live births in the U.S. each year) as well as suffocation-related injuries.
Not knowing CPR: Caregivers (including moms and dads!) should know what to do in a dire emergency, says Walker. She recommends looking into classes offered through The American Heart Association, or checking out the in-home infant CPR training kit available at www.aap.org/family/infantcpranytime.htm
Leaving your child in a car: You hear it on the news every summer, but it bears repeating: Children who are left in a car can die of heat stroke. In fact, there have been over 500 deaths since 1998, according to a study by San Francisco State University. Even if you’re tempted to jump out to go grab a cup of coffee, think twice.
Windows: Cords from window blinds look like lots of fun to a small child, which is why they also become a huge strangulation hazard if left dangling. Use cordless window coverings, or tie cords out of reach. And speaking of windows, there have been nearly 100,000 falls from windows over the last two decades, with the highest rates of injury being among children under 5. Install window guards that only an adult could open, and avoid putting anything your child might climb on in front of a window.
Poisoning: “Put the Drano on a high shelf and don't leave open bottles of pills around,” says Skenazy. The same goes for detergents, cleansers, beauty products like nail polish remover, and vitamins. Here’s a scary stat to leave you with: Over one million children swallow or have contact with a poisonous substance each year. So what do you do if you think your child drank or ate something poisonous? Immediately call the Poison Help line at 800/222-1222, and do not induce vomiting (which can sometimes make things worse).
Beyond these basics, remember that babies are pretty hearty, says Skenazy. And although you may hear about some sad and scary stories on the news -- from kidnappings to freak accidents -- she encourages parents to try to keep things in perspective: “We are living in some of the safest times in human history.”