Safety expert, Sarah Hunstead answers your 5 top baby safety questions

A new baby is a joyous event for any family. As you prepare to welcome your little one, it can be difficult to know where to start with all of the information available online about what’s safe and what isn’t.

I’m Sarah Hunstead, an independent safety consultant with over 5 years of experience helping parents keep their children safe at home and out in the world. I’ve answered 5 top questions that many new parents have about baby safety below; read on for more!

A common concern for parents of young children is keeping them safe at home and when they’re out and about.

So we asked the CEO of CPR Kids, Sarah Hunstead, to answer some of your top questions about safety in the home so you can always be confident that your little one is safe at all times.

Question 1: Can a cuddly blanket be dangerous for a sleeping baby?

Anise asks: “My three-and-a-half-month-old baby won’t settle without his cuddly blanket toy he was given at birth – I usually watch him carefully till he is asleep, then take it off him for safety reasons. The blanket part is only small but still big enough to cover his nose and mouth. But lately, I’ve been accidentally waking him as I take it out of the cot. So we have to start the whole process again. I’m wondering: At what age is it okay to leave the toy in his cot with him while he sleeps?”

Sarah says: That’s a really tricky one. I have my 10-year-old who still has the little blankie thing that she’s slept with from when she was a newborn. But one thing that we do need to be aware of – particularly at this age, and thinking about the safe sleeping guidelines from Red Nose – is that they do advise that we don’t put any toys in there because there is a risk.

I actually remember one night coming into my child, and she had pulled the whole thing over her face. And that was that panic moment for me. I knew that I shouldn’t have been doing that. But I get it, it helps them to sleep, you want them to be able to do that. But we need to think about those risks.

So until they are actually able to be in the cot without it being a risk to them, I’d remove that. I know it’s hard. I get it. I’ve got a child who is dependent on it. Go to the Red Nose website and have a look at their guidelines.

Question 2: Is a second-hand cot safe to use for my baby?

Olivia asks: “I’m due with my first baby later this year and I’ve started to collect things I need for the nursery – but money is super tight right now, and we’re trying to save wherever possible. My mum still has the cot she used when I was a baby and would like to gift it to us to use for our baby. It’s a beautiful old thing and is still in good nick. However, I’m concerned about how much the cot safety standards have changed since then, and whether it’s actually safe for my baby. How do I find out if this cot would still be safe to use?”

Sarah says: This is a great question because we had a second-hand cot as well. We needed a new mattress; every baby should have their own mattress. So that’s a really important thing.

With your mattress it’s really important that it’s the right size for the cot – so your child’s not able to get in between [the mattress and cot sides]. There should be no gaps at all.

The good thing is that there are Australian safety standards for cots – if you search ‘cot Australian standards’ in Google, it will come up with a fantastic document that will give you all the measurements for a safe cot. That way, you can work out if your second-hand cot is safe to use for your baby.

Question 3: My baby is escaping from her car seat straps

Lan asks: “My 11-month-old bub has just learned how to wiggle one of her arms out of her car seat straps. I honestly can’t understand it. I’ve checked and rechecked that I’m fastening them correctly and securely. But she practically dislocates her shoulder to do it. Do you have any tips to stop this? It really frightens me to think that she may be unsafe in the event of an accident.”

Sarah says: Car seats are non-negotiable. And we have to have a properly fitting car seat harness. There are things that are on the market that actually help hold the straps in place, but before you go out and buy one of those, it’s really important that you check with your car seat manufacturer that these are safe to use … whether or not it will actually cause more problems in an accident. Because there are ones that actually don’t work with seats, so it’s really important that we don’t just go straight to that solution.

What I would do is take the child and the car seat, preferably together, to a proper car seat fitting place and get them to make sure that everything is in the right spot for your child. Just make sure that all of the shoulder points are actually in the right place. Because often, if they are in the wrong spot, then it can actually make it much easier for kids to wiggle out.

After that, it’s about saying no – which is probably a little tricky at 11 months – but really starting to reinforce that. “No, you can’t do that.” Be consistent with that so your child learns. 

Question 4: Can my baby choke on finger food?

Selena asks: “My baby is eight months old and we’ve just started offering her finger foods. She’s a very keen eater and keeps jamming the food into her mouth and then gagging a lot, which is freaking me out. Can she actually choke on the food if I don’t quickly dig it off her mouth? I don’t know whether I should leave her, or perhaps she isn’t ready for food yet.”

Sarah says: So this is every parent’s worst nightmare; it can be really tricky. But rest assured that that gag reflex is 1,000 percent normal. It is a completely normal thing for children to gag and gag and gag – they actually need to do that to learn how to eat and to manage this solid food.

And so one of the important things is that we’re not jumping in, even though we want to. We look at them gagging and we want to get in there and relieve this. But what we need to do is just take that second to stop, give them the opportunity to be able to clear the food themselves. They’ll probably turn red, get watery eyes, gag, cough it up, vomit it up, pick it up again and shove it back in. It’s disgusting but completely normal!

When we DO need to intervene is when they don’t have that nice strong, effective cough. They need to be able to cough the food out, so if they’re silent or it keeps going and there’s a look of panic on their face, that’s when we need to intervene.

The reason why we shouldn’t dig food out of our baby’s mouth is that if she has something right at the back and we go and dig our fingers in there trying to scoop it out, we may well push it further back. Whereas if food is sitting back there, she will use gagging and her natural reflexes to help her bring that food forward.

And it’s really important that you cut up food safely. It’s better to have a nice long stick of steamed carrot (that’s like a baton that they can grab) so they can gnaw on that, rather than a round disk of carrot that is the perfect size to catch in an airway and lodge there. So think about the shapes of the food you’re offering.

Gagging is completely normal, even though it freaks us out. Let them try and clear it themselves – that’s how they learn how to manage food.

Question 5: Are Jolly Jumpers safe?

Cassie asks: “Are Jolly Jumpers safe to use? I remember my little brother being happily entertained in a Jolly Jumper when he was a baby. But they seem to be really out of fashion. Now my baby has heaps of energy and often doesn’t seem tired when I know he should be, and I’d love to buy him one. But are they actually considered unsafe now?”

Sarah says: There’s a couple of things with Jolly Jumpers. One thing of concern is children being suspended by their pelvis so that their hips aren’t supported. They are literally just being suspended at the crotch which tends not to be too good on their hips. That’s why the baby carriers that we use actually support their legs out into that little frog position.

On top of that, there have also been incidences of the jumping harnesses not being secured properly, so that they’ve fallen off mid-use and children have been injured.

What I recommend you do is jump onto the Kidsafe website for your state, search for Jolly Jumpers there, and have a really good read of their fact sheet, because there’s a lot of really good information on there.


Sarah says: So this is every parent’s worst nightmare; it can be really tricky. But rest assured that that gag reflex is 1000 percent normal. It is a completely normal thing for children to gag and gag and gag – they actually need to do that to learn how to eat and manage this solid food.

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