Massive Increase in Baby Gear Injuries: What Parents Need to Know

baby and mother strapping in carseat
iStock.com/RyanJLane

When most people find out they're expecting, the first thing they do is start searching for the safest car seats, strollers, and other baby gear. Suddenly, Consumer Reports become thrilling pre-bedtime reading material, and testing travel systems at the local baby store replaces your usual Saturday afternoon Netflix binge. For parents, safety is our number one priority, yet every eight minutes, a child under 3 is injured in an accident involving essential "nursery products," such as car seats, cribs, and strollers. Even scarier, a new study shows injuries involving nursery products are steadily on the rise.

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Experts at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital recently looked at data from millions of emergency room visits from 1991 to 2011 to figure out just how many babies and toddlers are injured in nursery product–related accidents each year. Their findings, which were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, show 1,391,884 kids under 3 were brought to the ER for product-related injuries in that 20-year period. 

On average, that's about 66,000 children per year. But, their research revealed something even more troubling: In the last eight years of the study, injuries increased by roughly 25 percent.

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Around 80 percent of kids' injuries were caused by falls, which can result in serious head and facial trauma. Tracy Mehan, MA, the manager of translational research at Nationwide Children's Hospital, tells CafeMom the steady uptick in reported injuries could have something to do with our increasing focus on concussions.

"This increase parallels an increase in awareness on a national level about ... the potential consequences of concussions," Mehan said. "This increased awareness may have contributed to the increased number of young children being treated in emergency departments for concussions and closed head injuries observed in this study."

Other common injuries observed in the study included kids falling out of strollers, babies getting tangled in crib bedding, or even infants getting caught in the space between their crib mattress and the crib itself. Some injuries can be attributed to user error, but Mehan cautions that parents shouldn't be the only ones making strides to keep kids safer.

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"We need safer products on the market," she said. "For example, many baby walker injuries occurred when children fell down the stairs while they were in their baby walkers. To address this, manufacturers changed the design so now the walkers can no longer fit through a standard door frame – thus designing the injury out of existence. We'd like to see more creative thinking like this applied to other nursery products."

In the meantime, Mehan and her colleagues say parents should focus on taking simple steps to protect their kids, starting with implementing "the four Rs" outlined on the Nationwide Children's Hospital website: research, recall, register, and read.

Mehan recommends doing research before you buy a new product by checking out MakeSafeHappen.com for information about safe practices and the best kinds of products to use. Parents should also check out recalls.gov to find out whether a product has been recalled, and they should register every product they purchase with the original manufacturer.

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Most importantly, parents need to read the instructions that come with their products. It's the most boring step of the process (trust me, I know), but manuals offer helpful tips about how to keep kids safe while using a product, as well as important information about how to adjust the product to accommodate growing kids.

Outside of the four Rs, Mehan offered some helpful tips specifically related to the top three nursery products associated with child injuries: strollers, baby carriers, and cribs. Here are her recommendations:

Strollers

"Make sure your child is seated and buckled in at all times," Mehan said. Parents should also lock the stroller wheels whenever the stroller is parked, look for strollers with a wider wheel base that's harder to tip, and never ever hang heavy items from the handle bars.

Baby Carriers

Babies should always be buckled in completely when sitting in a baby carrier, and carriers should be kept low to the ground to prevent them from falling or tipping. "Try to avoid using the stairs while using a baby carrier," Mehan added. "When you have to use the stairs, the baby carrier should be the only thing you're carrying. Use your free hand to hold the handrail."

Cribs

When it comes to cribs, they should only be used with a snugly-fitting mattress, and they should be free of blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and stuffed animals. Mehan also said parents should only use cribs manufactured after 2011, when crib safety standards underwent a major overhaul.

For more about crib safety -- as well as a guide to using other baby products safely -- Mehan recommends reading the downloadable nursery safety booklet at NationwideChildrens.org.

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