Baby’s first Christmas is undeniably a special occasion. There’s something about a baby in the home that makes this family-oriented holiday magical again for jaded adults. But keeping baby safe over the holidays may require a little extra vigilance. As family protector and guardian, your family relies on you to keep everyone safe. Here are some holiday safety tips to make your job easier.
If your baby is a newborn, you’ve probably already provided adequately for his or her safety. As long as you’re putting him to sleep on his back, and protecting him from the elements while travelling, there’s little else you need to do that you’re not already doing. But if your infant is approaching her first birthday – and especially if she’s an early bloomer who is already toddling – you’ll need to take a few extra precautions this season.
Danger in plain sight: Holiday greenery
For starters, keep live holiday plants either out of the home or out of reach. Mistletoe and holly berries are toxic, and toddlers are notoriously curious about anything new, especially anything visually attractive. Holly leaves are certainly festive, but they’re also armed with sharp spikes that can injure an infant’s tender skin. If you want to “deck the halls” be sure to keep these glossy evergreens well out of reach. Likewise, although mistletoe has ancient roots in mid-winter celebrations, its berries may be fatal if consumed. Don’t risk it.
Contrary to popular belief, commercially available poinsettias are not toxic. Any toxicity has long since been bred out of the hybrids found on modern store shelves. Nevertheless, their genetic forebears are somewhat toxic, hence the persistent misconception that these showy Christmas favorites pose a danger to curious infants and hungry pets. If your child is caught with a mouthful of poinsettia, don’t panic. Simply wash out the mouth and remove the offending plant to an out-of-reach location.
Other toxic plants that seem to appear around the holidays include amaryllis, Jerusalem cherry and ornamental pepper plants. Avoid them or keep them well out of reach. It may be tempting to decorate with common yew, which is an ubiquitous evergreen shrub in the suburban landscape, but the red berries (and especially the leaves) are highly toxic. Although yew somewhat resembles pine, the two are unrelated. Which brings us to the ever-popular Christmas tree.
Christmas trees sold in the United States generally include the firs, pines and spruces. Although none are inherently toxic, needles may choke a baby, or puncture delicate tissues. Take special care if your mobile infant is apt to put anything in his mouth. With its lights and shiny ornaments, a decorated Christmas tree is likely to prove irresistible to your toddler. Trees should be kept out of baby’s reach. Otherwise, be ready to keep a hawk’s eye on baby’s every move from the moment the tree goes up. An accessible tree poses a real danger. Curious infants are apt to grab hold of low branches, possibly bringing the entire tree down on their tender heads. And delicate glass ornaments may shatter easily, posing an obvious risk of laceration.
For our son’s first Christmas, we solved this dilemma by investing in a small live spruce. It perched on a table top – well out of reach, and high enough to fill the window. After the holidays we promptly planted it in our son’s honor. It will be fascinating to see how much it – and he – will have grown in 20 years. If a live tree is impractical for your yard or budget, you may want to consider scaling back the size of this year’s tree. I recommend buying a smaller one that will fit on a tabletop.
The alternative is to secure the tree with anchored guy wires. Keep your tree fresh by removing one to two inches from the bottom of the trunk immediately before placing it in water. Don’t forget to replenish water as needed. A fresh tree is less of a fire hazard than a parched tree. If you opt for an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled as “fire resistant”. Although not fireproof, a tree labeled resistant is safer than an unlabeled tree. Never use electric lights on a metal tree. Don’t laugh. They’re occasionally back in vogue, and new consumers of these retro “trees” may be unfamiliar with the tacky revolving light wheel used as an alternative light source.
Be sure to screen everything that comes down the chimney. Some of Santa’s toys may include small, sharp or breakable parts, and should be shown the door. Read labels and buy age-appropriate toys only. Avoid leaving plastic shopping bags or wrappings lying around. They may pose a suffocation risk.
Holiday decorating and parties may also harbor risks. If alcoholic beverages are to be served around baby, keep a sharp eye on curious hands and mouths. Alcohol is technically toxic to humans in general, but especially so (and in minute amounts) when inadvertently consumed by toddlers.
Babies should not be exposed to cigarette smoke. But if other guests at a party do smoke, be sure baby doesn’t swallow discarded cigarettes. Nicotine is also toxic, especially to infants.
If you take baby out on holiday visits, be sure to dress him or her appropriately. It’s often below freezing in much of the country at some time during the holidays, so avoid the risk of frostbite when taking baby outdoors.
Electric decorations, and especially lights, pose potential shock hazards. Check for frayed wires, poor connections or empty light sockets. Avoid overloading outlets, or using inadequate extension cords. Virtually any decoration may pose a choking hazard. Keep an eye out for small, loose pieces that may fall within baby’s reach. Obviously lighted candles should only be used where an infant can’t possibly get to them, and should never be allowed to burn unattended.
Have a safe and happy holiday!
by Dale Keifer