I cringe when I think of all the unnecessary products I purchased in the hopes of creating baby nirvana (did we really need multiple themed tummy time mats?).
But what’s even more disturbing to me are the safety mistakes I made when my kids were young.
No one wants her kids to go without things that could lead them to happier and healthier lives, but that begs the question: Will this help my child lead a happier, healthier life?
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Whether you have a baby, toddler or school-aged child, before you slap down that credit card, here are some things you may want to reconsider—and save that money instead.
1. Crib Bumpers, Fancy Pillows and Blankets
All that cute bedding will make your baby’s crib look adorable, but did you know that those bumpers, pillows and blankets could be dangerous? The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates up to 900 SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) deaths per year caused by soft bedding and suffocation.
What do to instead: Consider the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and stick with a simple fitted crib sheet. Hold off on making an investment in matching bedding until your child celebrates his first birthday.
Is a swing worth the expense? When making a decision, know that the AAP recommends no more than two 30-minute swing sessions a day. Letting your baby sleep in a semi-seated position for too long can make it difficult to get enough oxygen, which can impact his development.
What to do instead: Don’t commit until you figure out if your little one even likes being strapped down in a swing. If you decide it’s worth it, follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines, ensure your baby is firmly strapped in and don’t leave him unattended. If your baby falls asleep in his swing, car seat, stroller, sling or carrier, move him to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible. (If you decide against a swing, consider a less expensive portable bouncy seat, which would still provide your arms with a welcome break.)
3. Sleep Positioners
I used to compulsively check that my babies were breathing throughout the night, and I relied on a sleep positioner to keep them on their backs. As it turns out, sleep positioners have been deemed a safety hazard by the Food and Drug Administration and the CPSC because babies can suffocate by turning onto their stomachs or become trapped between the positioner and the side of the crib.
What to do instead: Invest in a non drop-side crib, a firm mattress and fitted sheets. For the first year of life, always put your baby to sleep on her back (nap time included). Dr. Michael H. Goodstein, an Attending Neonatologist in York, Pennsylvania, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on SIDS, explains: “Sleeping on the stomach or side can increase the risk of rebreathing expired gases, resulting in high carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels in the bloodstream and vital organs such as the brain.” Stomach sleeping can also cause your baby to overheat, which increases the risk of SIDS.
4. Bottle, Food and Wipe Warmers
Bottle and food warmers continue to be recalled by the CPSC, as they can easily overheat liquids and burn your child, or overheat and ignite. And while a warm wipe may seem a kinder option for your baby’s tushie, they are regularly recalled due to fire hazard and potential electric shock.
What to do instead: If your baby likes a warm bottle or food, try running the bottle/container under warm tap water or submerging it in a bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Make sure to test the temperature before serving. Avoid the microwave due to the risks associated with BPA, or Bisphenol A chemicals and the risk of burns from uneven heating. As for wipes, try warming them in your hands instead.
5. Baby Walkers
Baby walkers may give your little one more freedom, but according to the AAP they’re unsafe, and may even be linked to delayed motor and mental development.
What to do instead: Let your child learn to walk on her own. You can help her out by bouncing her on your lap to develop leg muscles, buying supportive footwear, and encouraging “cruising” by walking behind her while holding her hands. Make sure your home is baby-proofed to avoid unnecessary bumps and bruises along the way. (Here's how to childproof inexpensively.)
6. Baby Powder
That sweet-smelling talcum powder is actually dangerous for your little one. The AAP recommends against it because the powder is easily inhaled and can lead to breathing problems and lung damage.
What to do instead: Stick to a protective non-scented ointment or cream for your baby’s delicate bottom. For more ways to protect your child from toxins, here's our guide to safe, toxin-free kids products.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
1. Warm Mist Humidifiers
When your little one is sick, you’ll do anything to ease his pain and discomfort. But investing in a warm mist humidifier is not the safest choice because of the potential burn risk.
What to do instead: Stick with the cool mist option.
2. Latex Balloons
Latex balloons have accounted for more choking deaths in small children than any other toy. While balloons are tons of fun, once they pop, it is too easy for youngsters to put pieces in their mouths.
What to do instead: Consider buying Mylar (foil) balloons for parties. They have a safety sealing valve and stay in one piece when popped. Keep the balloons tethered and avoid using them outdoors, as their metallic properties can cause short circuits and power outages if they drift to power lines. (And that’s no way to end a party.)
3. Recreational Trampolines
Trampolines aren’t cheap (even the mini versions), but oh, how kids love them. Are they worth the investment? Not according to the AAP. The organization recently released an updated statement advising parents against recreational use of trampolines. All age groups are at risk of serious injury, but kids 5 and under are most at risk for injuries such as fractures and dislocations.
If you do have a trampoline, ensure there is adult supervision, and allow only one child to jump at a time. The AAP recommends making sure your homeowner's insurance covers trampoline-related injuries. And don’t be fooled into believing that netting will reduce the risk of injury; it doesn’t.
What to do instead: If your child is in love with trampolining, consider registering him in a gymnastics program with professional supervision.
My 5-year-old daughter is already asking when she can start wearing makeup. If that’s not disturbing enough, many products like eye shadow, foundation and mascara have been linked to hormone imbalance, cancer and infertility. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has shown that the younger a girl starts wearing make-up, the greater the risk of chemical damage.
What to do instead: The next time your daughter asks you to buy her some shiny lip-gloss, consider the product ingredients (not to mention the message you’re sending about beauty).
2. Heeled Shoes
If heels aren’t good for your feet, how are they safe for your daughter? Little girls are still working on balance and are more likely to stumble in heels (whether plastic or “real”). Not only is it dangerous, but wearing heels “pitches the foot forward and puts stress on the Metatarsal heads (ball of the foot) and also causes the Achilles tendon to shorten in the long term which can cause muscular imbalances,” according to Dr. Ron Raducanu, Current President of the American College of Foot and Ankle Pediatrics. When it comes to heels and girls, “Flats only, please!” says Dr. Raducanu.
As hard as it may be to enforce, your daughter shouldn’t wear heels until all her bones and muscles have matured, which according to Dr. Raducanu, may not occur until she is 18 years old.
What to do instead: While it may be hard to say no, there are many chic flats (and cool sneakers) that are stylish enough to keep pace with her social life. (Hint: If your daughter is old enough to fit into adult-sized shoes, you might find cuter options for flats in the adult section.)
My kids are still in the training wheels phase of life, but beg for a scooter daily. I get nervous just watching the neighborhood kids whiz by. The AAP warns that young kids are at a higher risk for injury because they don’t have the best judgment of their skills or the road and traffic conditions. As a result, the AAP recommends kids under 8 shouldn’t be on scooters without close adult supervision.
What to do instead: If possible, hold off until your child is older and better able to control the scooter. When they’re ready, the CPSC recommends kids wear helmets, knee pads and elbow pads, ride on smooth pathways away from traffic, and not after the sun goes down.
4. Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities keep kids more engaged in school, less likely to get into trouble and more likely to go to college. But the abundance of choice and the hefty financial commitment can be overwhelming. (Here are the best kid activities for your buck.) It can also be overwhelming for the kids. Before paying for art classes, dance classes, kayak trips and out-of-town travel to brain bowl competitions, think about the physical toll each could take on your kid. For example, soccer is the sport with the second-most concussions, say doctors, and according to a study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, girls experience twice as many as boys.
What to do instead: Thoroughly research the cost, time commitment and risk involved with any extracurricular activity you're considering, and try to avoid overscheduling kids: Sleep deprivation has been shown to have adverse effects on teens' behavior and cognitive abilities, so you don't need to pack every hour with activity. Remember that dinner together and family downtime can be just as beneficial.