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The Baby Gizmo Buying Guide
From Pacifiers to Potties ... Why, When, and What to Buy for Pregnancy through Preschool
By Heather Maclean, Hollie Schultz
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Heather Maclean
All rights reserved.
The Three Most Important Things to Consider When Buying a Baby Product: Safety, Safety, and Safety
I remember very clearly where I was when I was first shamed into rethinking my whole philosophy on baby gear. My driveway. I was bemoaning the cost of a new car seat for my daughter and scheming about buying a cheap one on eBay, when my neighbor lost it on me.
"You mean to tell me you drive a $40,000 SUV, but you only want to spend $40 on a car seat to protect your baby?!?" she shrieked, howler-monkey style.
It was true. I had traded in my previous car at a financial loss because I was so concerned about getting a safer vehicle, yet I wouldn't dream of spending $200 on one of those "fancy" car seats.
Why was I so cheap when it came to baby gear? I would never buy used pillows, sleep on an old mattress, or wear hand-me-down underwear. I would never pick up a smoke alarm at a secondhand store or get a fire extinguisher at a garage sale.
Sure, babies are expensive. But when it comes to your baby's well-being, you should never, ever settle. Buy toys at an outlet. Accept hand-me-down clothes. But don't skimp on baby gear. It's just too dangerous.
I'm a convert. And I hope you will be too.
What You Don't Know Can Hurt Your Baby
You would think that products made for use by the tiniest, most helpless (and most adorable) of creatures would be put through rigorous tests by the government before they hit the stores. You would think. And you would be wrong.
Believe it or not, companies are not required to test most children's products for safety before they are sold. In fact, the government sets safety standards for only four types of children's products: car seats, pacifiers, toys, and cribs. Everything else—high chairs, strollers, monitors, and so forth—can be placed on the market with no safety testing at all.
The juvenile products industry does issue voluntary safety standards, but they are indeed voluntary. And while most manufacturers do test their own products, many times the tests take place in a controlled laboratory environment. (And we all know a toy-strewn family room with a rambunctious toddler and a distracted mom making dinner is hardly the same as a controlled laboratory environment.) Safety issues or product defects frequently aren't discovered until children actually begin using the products.
During the 1990s alone, more than a million portable cribs and playpens were recalled. In 2000, two children's products were recalled every week, resulting in the recall of 37 million individual items. And sadly, every year, over 200,000 children are treated for injuries resulting from unsafe children's products.
So what's a mother to do?
Keep on Top of Recalls
We know it's a pain, and yes, we too figure if it's a biggie, eventually we'll hear about it. But then we look at our tiny angels and remember that we'd never forgive ourselves if we had the power to keep them out of harm's way and didn't use it.
Here are some tips on how to be diligent:
1. Check Your Inventory for Recalled Products
Make a list of every product your baby uses or you're considering buying, and verify that it hasn't been recalled. For the most complete and up-to-date list, visit www.recalls.gov.
2. Check Products Your Baby Uses Outside Your House
You know your playpen is safe, but what about the one at your day care center? Babysitter's? Grandma's house? Hotel? Gym? Write down and research all products your baby uses at every location. Don't assume because it's a licensed or respectable facility that it's on top of recalls. It's ultimately your job to protect your baby.
3. Sign Up for Recall E-mail Alerts
We know your inbox is full, but there's no better way to be in the know immediately. It's super simple to sign up at the government's recall website: www.recalls.gov. They won't send you junk or ads—just one to two messages a week as recalls are announced. When you hear news, share the love and tell your friends.
4. Use Common Sense
If the buckle frequently comes undone or the handle seems shaky, don't wait for an accident to report or retire your product. If it seems unsafe, it probably is.
5. Maintain Your Products
Young children are masters of perpetual and repetitive motion. Their constant use can compromise even the safest product. Check your baby gear regularly for loose screws, rickety rails, fraying cords, and so forth. Better yet, put your husband on the task. He gives regular maintenance love to his car. Have him give some of that concern to your helpless newborn. Every time he gets the oil changed, have him inspect everything your children use.
6. Don't Blindly Trust Brand Names
As brand conscious as we all are, even the most well-respected companies shouldn't be blindly trusted. It's easy to distrust a cheap-looking toy from overseas, but be aware that almost every brand-name manufacturer has had multiple recalls. Don't give blind trust to any brand.
7. Don't Assume More Expensive Means Safer
Many times more expensive products are better made and could be safer, but that is hardly the rule. One of the most popular and expensive brands of baby carriers has recalled its famous product three times in the last six years for a variety of reasons that resulted in babies falling and fracturing their skulls. Keep on top of all your products, even the expensive, designer ones.
Go for the New
Many parents mistakenly believe that baby gear that's purchased secondhand or handed down, especially from an older sibling, is safer than a new product because it was "kid tested." Your older daughter used it and was just fine, so it must be safe. Not true.
Not only do the mechanical parts of baby products, like all products, deteriorate over time, but safety standards are raised each year, more stringent policies are constantly being put into place, and manufacturers do actually learn from their mistakes on past design flaws.
And just because you see a secondhand product for sale, doesn't mean it hasn't been recalled. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that currently 69 million recalled products are still on the shelves, mostly at thrift and resale shops.
While new products do get recalled, with a new version you have a much better chance of hearing about the safety problem and getting a retrofit, refund, or replacement.
Because of the vast number of historical recalls and frequency with which you will use (and abuse!) certain products, we highly suggest you buy the following baby products new.
Because a safe and correctly installed car seat can cut the risk of injury to a child in an automobile accident by over 60 percent, you should pick the best possible seat for your child. And to reduce your chances of getting a product that has been recalled—over the last 10 years, millions of car seats and boosters from every major manufacturer have been recalled—your best bet is a new seat.
Used car seats are also dangerous because they have unknown histories. If a car seat is in even a minor crash, its structural integrity is forever compromised.
By the time our kids grew out of their car seat, it was usually ready for the trash anyway, thanks to holes in the fabric and permanent juice box damage. But if you drive a disciplined car, have your kids close enough in age, and stay on top of maintenance and recall information, you may be able to reuse some car seats and boosters for your subsequent children. But know that car seats are only tested when brand new, and everything wears out eventually. No one has ever officially tested used car seats to find out how old is too old. While nobody wants to state an exact age of expiration, most car seat manufacturers themselves recommend not keeping a car seat more than five or six years from the date of manufacture (which you can find on the car seat itself), not the date of purchase.
Cribs cause more infant deaths than any other nursery product. Every year, nearly 12,000 children are hospitalized with crib-related injuries, and an average of 35 children die in unsafe cribs. Most of those deaths and injuries occur in secondhand or hand-me-down cribs. Cribs made before 1990 should never be used because they have slats that are wide enough to injure children, or were built too wide to snugly fit a standard baby mattress. Antique cribs are not recommended for these same reasons, but also because of additional lead paint concerns.
How long can you use your first child's crib? Ten years is a good rule of thumb, provided the crib hasn't been recalled, isn't missing any hardware, and shows no sign of structural distress. It's a good idea to accept a used crib only from your own immediate family, so you are assured of its history. Say "no thanks" to the crib from your neighbor.
While it's easy to see how a 15-year-old crib might have a higher recall risk, cribs just a few years old are recalled at alarming rates. A record number of cribs were recalled in 2005. And in 2007, 40,000 cribs were recalled—cribs that had been made from 2005 to 2007. Current crib hazards include defective supports, rails that detach, and lead paint; in addition, even though manufacturers have known about crib mattress safety for years, thousands of cribs are still too wide for a standard baby mattress. Mattresses need to fit snugly into a crib: there should be less than two finger widths between the edge of the mattress and the crib.
Whatever the age of your crib, stay vigilant about its care, repair, and recall status. The CPSC estimates that 20,000,000 (that's 20 million!) unsafe cribs and play yards are still in use or waiting in storage.
The granddaddy of potentially unsafe products, millions of portable cribs and mesh play yards have been recalled over the years—and caused a heartbreaking number of deaths—because of serious safety flaws. The main defect was in how the rails were constructed and how easily they could collapse on a child's neck. Other hazards included risks of choking or entanglement, head entrapment, suffocation, and injury when the product tipped over as legs loosened or separated.
What makes play yards especially dangerous is that they are easy to set up incorrectly, they are the ultimate store-and-use-years-later product, and recalled models are hard to spot. A large percentage of the recalled play yard population was never retired because they serve as a portable baby sleeping staple for people without kids (and cribs) in their house: folks who have no reason to routinely check for baby product recalls. Problematic play yards are particularly insidious because they were intended to provide a safe environment for your baby, so parents automatically trust them, and they pop up in seemingly safe locations where you might bed your baby (like a hotel room or day care).
The sheer number of product recalls in this category and the seriousness of the injuries make this a poor hand-me-down choice.
Another reason to buy this product new is the advancements in convenience and safety features. Modern play yards include features such as floating bassinet sections, changing tables, night-lights, and music. And while 2001 models had solid sides in the bassinets, newer versions have mesh siding to allow babies better breathing conditions and hopefully cut down on SIDS risks.
Changing tables result in thousands of serious injuries each year, because a baby literally can fall as quickly as you can turn your back. New changing tables are recommended because they have four side rails for safety and safety straps for your infant. Keep in mind that babies won't alert you the day they turn from a gelatinous glob into a rolling maniac. They will just roll. Hopefully you'll have the safety measures in place when they do.
P.S. No matter what the store is selling, never use an attachable mattress pad on a regular dresser. Velcro just doesn't cut it. If you don't want to invest in a proper changing table, use the floor (we won't tell).
Baby Carriers, Slings, and Backpacks
These products are recalled almost too frequently to count. Faulty products in this category are especially dangerous because you use the product to carry your baby high off the ground, and you trust that it's going to hold them. Common reasons for recall include leg openings that are too large, and faulty latches, buckles, and straps. All result in the same thing: babies plummeting to earth.
Because there are so many recalls, because the models look so alike year to year, and because the secondhand stores are chock-full of the recalled versions, we don't recommend buying them used. If you must, though, or want to use one from a family member, check the recall information thoroughly.
Baby gates are frequently recalled, but they have also been completely redesigned in recent years to have smaller slat openings, be less kid-climbable, and have stronger latches. Most recalls are for larger slat openings that can cause entrapment or strangulation, gates that are easy for children to climb, and latches that break or can be easily opened, allowing children access to dangerous areas like stairs.
Baby gates made before 1985 with the diamond-shaped openings that closed accordion-style are especially dangerous and should never be used.
Seven Deadly Sinners: Unsafe Baby Products You Should Not Buy
While the CPSC will recall defective products, for some insane reason, it will not ban some especially dangerous products outright, even though consumer organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and masses of parents beg them to.
The following is our personal list of the seven most dangerous baby products you can buy, but shouldn't.
1. Baby Walkers
We have a personal reason for hating these things. When our brother Sean was 12 months old, he drove his baby walker down our basement stairs and ended up in a full body cast for eight weeks. But we're not the only ones who hate them. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long called for a ban on baby walkers, and Canada has already banned them. (And what a ban it was! On April 7, 2004, the Canadian government announced an immediate ban on the sale, importation, and even advertisement of baby walkers.)
More than 14,000 babies are sent to the hospital every year with baby walker injuries, and studies have found that they don't encourage walking and can actually delay development. In 1997, the walkers were widened to supposedly no longer fit through doorways, but babies can still zip around, tip themselves over, and reach dangerous things like stovetops and counters.
So why are manufacturers still making them? Because people are still buying them. The same people, we suspect, who let their 7-year-olds ride ATVs and their 10-year-olds ride power lawn mowers.
Let's put this dangerous product out of business before one more baby zooms into a space heater or fireplace. Please.
2. Baby Bath Seats
Most manufacturers have (wisely) quit making these, but you can still find them. Avoid them like the plague. Baby bath seats have little suction cups that are supposed to hold them down, but frequently, they fail. And babies fall over. And become trapped by the seat. And because a baby can drown (silently) in just an inch of water, the danger is clear.
Just as big a danger as faulty suction cups seems to be the false sense of security the seats give parents. Baby bath seats are not safety devices. They will not hold your child safely in the bath. Do not use them. (And of course, never, ever leave your baby alone in the bath. For even a second.)
Excerpted from The Baby Gizmo Buying Guide by Heather Maclean, Hollie Schultz. Copyright © 2008 Heather Maclean. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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