Babies explore the world by putting things in their mouth. That's one reason more than 1 million children under age 6 are victims of accidental poisoning each year. You can help keep your baby safe by identifying and locking up toxic materials and knowing what to do if she touches, inhales, or swallows something poisonous. How can I tell which substances are poisonous?
It's not always obvious what's hazardous and what's not, and poisonous substances may not be in plain sight. Conduct a room-by-room inventory of products you think might be toxic, listing anything that's out in the open as well as inside drawers, cupboards, and closets. Then make sure all poisons are clearly labeled and locked out of a child's reach. If you don't know whether a product is poisonous, check the label or call the American Association of Poison Control Centers' hot line at (800) 222-1222.
Here are some of the hazardous substances commonly ingested by children under age 6:
How can I make sure that my baby doesn't get hold of any harmful substances?
If possible, start poison-proofing your house before your baby is born. You'd be surprised how fast your baby will learn to get into cupboards and open child-resistant caps.
Lock up all medicines and harmful substances. Secure all cupboards that contain poisons, even those that seem out of reach, with safety latches or locks. Poison experts know of many young children who've dragged a chair over to a kitchen counter, climbed onto the counter or even the refrigerator, and opened a cupboard near the ceiling. Your child may be able to do something like this before you know it.
Get rid of old or expired medications. In general, it's not a good idea to flush old drugs down the toilet, as they may contaminate groundwater and end up in the drinking water supply. However, there are a few drugs that are so potentially harmful to children that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends disposing of them in the toilet rather than the trash.
Look at the label of the medicine to find out if it should be flushed. If you're not sure, you can check with your pharmacy or local government to find out what you should do with it. Some communities have a drug take-back program for old and expired medicines.
If a take-back program isn't available and you have to throw out your drugs in the trash, remove any personal information from the empty bottles and place them in a sealed container with kitty litter or coffee grounds.
Don't rely on child-resistant containers. Child-resistant doesn't mean childproof. Hopefully, the cap will delay a child who is trying to open a container long enough for an adult to discover what's going on and to intervene in time. Remember: No bottle top is ever so secure that a child can't find some way to get it off. "It's not unusual for a 2-year-old, left alone for 30 minutes, to break down the best devices of the manufacturer," says pediatrician Mark Widome.
Keep medicines, pesticides, and even detergents in their original containers. Never put poisonous or toxic products in unlabeled containers or containers that were once used for food. Poison centers have heard too many horror stories about how a toxic liquid like antifreeze in an unmarked container has been mistaken for apple juice.
Move purses, luggage, and grocery bags away from prying hands.
A tube of brightly hued lipstick or a bottle of coated pills can look like candy to a baby. Store your purse on a high shelf, and unpack anything potentially dangerous from your grocery bag before you turn to another task.
Never refer to any kind of medicine as candy.
Even if you're trying to get a reluctant child to take flavored acetaminophen or antibiotic syrup, don't treat it as something good to eat. Children learn by imitation, so take your own medicine when your baby isn't watching. Just to be safe, teach your child never to eat anything without asking an adult first.
Read labels before buying household products, and try to use the least toxic ones.
Among the household products generally considered less hazardous are non-chlorine bleaches, vinegar, borax, and beeswax. Unclog drains with compressed air instead of corrosive liquids.
Always keep a watchful eye on your baby.
Even the most thorough childproofing is no substitute for supervision. Be extra vigilant when visiting the house of a friend or relative, particularly if it hasn't been childproofed.
Is there anything else I should do to prevent poisoning?
Install carbon monoxide alarms throughout your home.
Carbon monoxide gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Every year, thousands are poisoned by carbon monoxide that leaks from stoves, space heaters, ovens, gas vents, furnaces, and fireplaces. Be sure all your gas appliances are in safe working order and install a carbon monoxide alarm outside every sleeping area and on every floor of your home.
What should I do if I think my child has swallowed something harmful?
The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends that you keep syrup of ipecac on hand in case of poisoning – it hasn't been shown to be effective in preventing poisoning and can potentially be misused. Instead, post the toll-free number for the American Association of Poison Control Centers' national emergency hot line by your phone and be ready to call for help in case of a poisoning
(800) 222-1222. Post the number now, before
an emergency occurs. (Use our handy emergency contact worksheet
.)The association's website
also has information about poison-proofing your home.
If your baby's unconscious, not breathing, or having a seizure, call 911 immediately. Otherwise, at the first sign that your child may have been poisoned, call the national emergency hot line number posted next to your phone. You'll automatically be put in touch with a local poison control center. Local lines are staffed 24 hours a day by registered pharmacists, nurses, and doctors with special training in responding to poisoning crisis calls and answering routine questions about household poisons.