Before you welcome your baby home, you'll want to have everything in place. That means getting the "big 4" baby gear items: car seat, crib or bassinet, stroller, and -- thinking ahead -- high chair. These tips will show you how to make smart, safe choices.
Have the Car Seat Ready
It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip -- your baby's first ride home! Install the car seat ahead of time so everything's ready. Newborns should ride in rear-facing car seats. Follow installation instructions, or find a child safety seat inspection station for help. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web site lists stations, or call 888-327-4236. The middle of the backseat is the safest spot to install the seat.
Types of Rear-Facing Seats
Infant-only seats are smaller than regular baby seats. The seat may come out of the base and have handles so you can use it to carry the baby. Convertible seats can be used rear-facing and then changed to forward-facing when your child gets older. They do not have a separate base or carrying handles. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
Safe Crib Checklist
Thinking about using an old-fashioned crib? Think carefully -- buying new will give you confidence it's up to the latest safety standards. No drop-side cribs, for example. You can check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if a crib has been recalled and for information on risks from these products. Other things to check about your crib: No missing, broken, or loose parts. All moving parts run on track, smoothly. No more than 2 3/8 of an inch (less than a soda can width) between the crib's slats. The top of corner posts should be out of a child's reach or should be less than 1/16 of an inch high so clothing can't get caught.
Buying a Crib Mattress
You'll need to purchase a separate mattress for the crib. Get a firm one that fits snugly into the crib. A space greater than two fingers' width between the mattress and crib frame means that you need a bigger mattress. To reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), only use a fitted bottom sheet made for crib use, and keep the crib free of smothering hazards -- pillows, blankets, pillow-like bumper pads, and stuffed toys.
Tips on Buying and Using Bassinets
Some parents prefer to use a bassinet at first. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends choosing one certified for safety by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Look for a sturdy bottom with a wide base; smooth surfaces; legs with locks; and a snug-fitting mattress. Just as you would with a crib, make sure there are no pillows, quilts, comforters, blankets, pillow-like bumper pads, or stuffed toys in with the baby.
Which Stroller Is Right for You?
Standard strollers usually feature reclining seats, cup holders, trays, and under baskets. Some have a seat that doubles as a carrier and fits your car seat to make transfers easy. There are also lightweight strollers that can be easier to handle. Check the size and weight requirements. Many lightweight strollers may not work for babies under 3 months old. The JPMA also certifies strollers for safety, so look for its seal on boxes.
Stroller Safety Tips
Always strap your child in, even if your journey is a short one. You can choose a stroller with a T-strap or a 5-point restraint (with shoulder belts). Make sure the leg openings are small enough that an infant won't slide through. Don't hang a purse or baby bag on the stroller handles. That could make the stroller tip over backward.
When Baby's Ready for a High Chair
When your baby starts to sit up and eat solid foods, a high chair is essential. Select one with a wide base that won't tip easily. Look for easy-to-use straps, and always strap your baby in using both the waist belt and the strap between the legs. Don't rely on the tray to restrain your baby -- it's for holding food, not a wiggly child. Make sure your baby stays seated (no standing up) and never leave her alone in the high chair.
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American Academy of Pediatrics: "A Parent's Guide to Safe Sleep," "Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families 2011."
Consumer Product Safety Commission: "Crib Safety Tips." Consumer Reports: "Crib safety tips."
ConsumerReports.org: "On the go: Stroller safety."
Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association: "Safe and Sound for Baby."
KidsHealth.org: "Choosing Safe Baby Products: Strollers."
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: "4 Steps for Kids: Rear-Facing Seats."
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: "The Safe Nursery."
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.