What Baby Safety Stuff Is Essential -- and What's Just Silly?

September is National Baby Safety Month (who knew?), but if you’re the mom of a tot who’s just become mobile -- or will be soon -- you probably don’t need a specially designated date to make you worry that your home is properly babyproofed.

Like many moms, I was indoctrinated into the world of baby-proofing products when my son was a rough-and-tumble toddler. I had oversized outlet covers and cupboard latches, a safety gate and a toilet seat lock. And I spent a lot of money of stuff that ultimately didn’t work for my apartment. Case in point: My son repeatedly ripped the foam corner protectors off our coffee table, and after two different locks failed to work on our apparently odd-shaped toilet, I gave up and just started locking the bathroom door.

Then there was the gear I didn’t even bother to buy. I joked about making my son wear a helmet all the time once he started walking (and falling) but I never seriously considered buying one (and yes, there are helmets on the market that are designed to prevent everyday bumps, bruises and injuries).

Yup, it seems like there’s a baby-safety product for absolutely everything a mom could worry about. And as neurotic as I am about stuff like this, to me, some are a little over the top. Baby kneepads for crawling? Devices that tell you if the bath water is too hot? I'm hardly one to pooh-pooh safety measures, but it makes me wonder, do we really need all of this stuff? What’s wrong with dipping your hand into the tub to test the water?

I asked Debra Smiley Holtzman J.D., M.A., a health and safety expert and the author of The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living (Sentient Publications, 2009), how parents can sort through the plethora of available safety gear and get what’s really essential. “Every home is different and has special hazards or issues that need to be addressed,” says Holtzman. So know what's hazardous in your house before you head to the store. Some moms find that getting down on their hands and knees to observe the place is helpful in really finding the stuff baby can get into. If you're clueless, consider consulting a babyproofing expert to help you figure out what you'll need.

The most essential baby safety products, Holtzman says, are:

  • Electrical outlet safety covers and outlet plates. (Be sure these can’t easily be removed by a child and are not a choking hazard.)
  • Angle braces or anchors to secure furniture to the wall.
  • Hardware-mounted safety gates for stairs. (Pressure bar gates are suitable for less hazardous locations, such as for separating rooms on the same floor.)
  • Power failure-proof nightlights for bedroom, hallways, stairs and bathrooms.
  • Toilet bowl safety lock.
  • Cushioned spout cover for bathtub.
  • Rubber suction bath mat.
  • Corner and edge protectors for all sharp edges.
  • Door stops and door holders to keep little fingers from being pinched.
  • Power strip cover.
  • Safety latches and locks for drawers and cabinets.
  • Appliance locks for refrigerator, freezer, microwave, trash compacter and oven.
  • Doorknob covers and door locks.
  • Window guards with quick-release mechanisms for fire exits. (A less costly option is to use a window-stopping device, which attaches to the inside of the window frame to prevent the window from opening more than 4 inches.)
  • Deadbolt lock for exterior doors.
  • Safety tassels, cord stops and tie-down devices for older corded window coverings. (Those manufactured before 2001 pose a potential strangulation hazard. I recommend replacing them with cordless products, especially in children's bedrooms and play areas. Parents who'd rather retrofit than replace can order free retrofit kits from the Window Covering Safety Council's web site, or by calling (800) 506-4636.)
  • Cord shorteners to eliminate excess electrical cords.

What baby safety stuff did you find useful -- and was was totally unnecessary? Chime in below!

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