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How to prevent baby gate-related injuries

Updated on December 4, 2015
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Baby gates can be wonderful things. They keep our kiddies from tumbling down stairs and and prevent them from going into areas that are not baby proof. Unfortunately, they also can also can give parents and caregivers a false sense of security and be a potential source of danger.

Experts such as Lara McKenzie, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says baby gates are essential safety devices to protect young children from possible injury and parents and caregivers should use them. There are some factors that need to be considered, however, to ensure that a gate is used properly and safely.

Baby Gate-Related Injuries on the rise

A research study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital into children who were treated in U.S. Emergency Departments for baby gate-related injuries between 1990 and 2010 showed that these types of injuries have quadrupled during that time period. The study showed that an average of approximately five injured children a day have to seek treatment in an hospital Emergency Department.

So what is the problem? There are several reasons why baby gate related injuries are on the rise. Parents and caregivers, however, can educate themselves on their safe use.

Injuries in children younger than 2 years-old

More than 60 percent of children who are injured by baby gates were under the age of 2. The most common injury was a fall down the stairs because a gate has collapsed or was left open. The kids suffer from soft tissue injuries such as strains, sprains, and traumatic brain injuries.

Injuries in children age 2 to 6 years-old

Children in this age group are injured while they try to climb up on a gate. They may suffer from cuts and bruises. Baby gates for these children should not have gaps or notches that might encourage a child to try to climb over it.

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When buying a gate:

  • Measure the space to be gated to make sure that the gate is wide enough to block the space
  • Check the label for an ASTM/JPMA certification that the product meets volunteer safety standards
  • Choose a gate that has a straight top edge and with either a tight mesh screen or rigid bars
  • The gate should not have openings where the gate attaches to a wall or door frame that are large enough to potentially trap children’s fingers or necks
  • There should be no more than 1 to 2 inches (2.5 centimeters) between the bottom of the gate and the floor so that a child cannot slip underneath
  • Rigid vertical rods or slates should not be more than 2 and 3/8 inches (6 centimeters) apart to prevent children’s heads from being trapped
  • Check the gate to ensure that there are no sharp edges or pieces that could hurt or cut a child’s hand
  • The baby gate should be no less than three-quarters of the child’s height

Baby Gate Safety Tips

  • Install gates in homes before children are six months of age to protect children until they are 2 years-old
  • Only use hardware-mounted baby gates at the tops of staircases
  • Remove the gates after the child reaches 2 years of age, or when the child has learned to open or climb on the gate
  • If it is not possible to remove the gate because of younger children in the home, ensure that the gate does not have gaps or notches
  • that an older child can use for climbing
  • Make sure that the gates are always closed
  • On pressure mounted baby gates, place the pressure bar away from the child
  • Gates used at the top of the stairs should never swing outwards
  • Keep large toys away from the gates – children may use them to try to climb over them
  • Do not use old accordion-style baby gates that were sold before 1985. These types of gates have been recalled because the v-shaped gaps and diamond-shaped shapes at the top and sides can trap and choke children
  • Check for recalls on the U.S. government website at recalls.gov

Types of baby gates

There are two types of baby gates. The first are pressure mounted, that is, pressure from each side of the gate keeps it in place.

These types of gates should only be used as room dividers or at the foot of the stairs. They are not designed to handle the pressure of A child’s full body weight and will collapse if a child pushes hard on it or tries to climb it. Even a child who cannot walk is capable of pushing down a pressure-mounted gate down, leading to a fall down the stairs.

The other type use hardware that screws into the wall to secure the gate to stair railings or a wall. They will stay put under pressure and will prevent a child from falling down stairs

Voluntary Safety Standards

Baby gates are not regulated by government standards, but many companies meet volunteer safety standards by ASTM International. Companies that voluntarily meet these stands will have an ASTM designation on the product label.

Parents should be aware of products that have been recalled by checking out the U.S. federal government’s recall website. Safety experts are lobbying to make baby gate standards mandatory to improve the safety of these products.

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“Current standards are voluntary and concentrate on things like the size of the openings, height, vertical strength, bottom spacing, configuration of the uppermost edge and label warnings,” Dr. McKenzie said.

“While these are important, making them mandatory and adding standards to address designs that limit children’s ability to climb gates, prevent gates from collapsing, and provide better cushion to children if they fall on the gate would prevent many of the injuries we saw in our study.”

© 2014 Carola Finch

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    Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

    I love your article. The stat that stuck in my head is that rigid up and down slats need to be no more than 2 and 3/8 inches wide. It seems a very specific number and makes me wonder how narrow a baby's head is. I know I have a big head but I never thought it had saved my life. lol Anyway loved the article and the videos. In my home as a child there was the old fashioned diamond accordion style that was wooden and would never stay open and never stay closed. All us kids figured out how to open it as soon as we saw the spring and tried it a few times. We were proud of ourselves and went where we were not supposed to go and back without mom knowing. It would have been fine but my brother had the big mouth and I had the big head. hahaha So that was the end of the freedom my sneaking brought us. Bob.

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    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    Very helpful details on preventing baby-gate-related injuries. Will share with my grandson's parents. Thank you very much. Voted Up!