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Choosing Toys for Babies

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of Gentle Baby Care and The No-Cry Sleep Solution

  • Check the paint or finish on the toy to make sure it is non-toxic, since babies put everything in their mouths.

  • Check toys for sharp points, rough edges, rust, and broken parts.

  • Always abide by the age rating on the package. No matter how smart your child is or how wonderful the toy, don't second-guess the manufacturer, since age rankings often are given due to safety issues. If you choose to purchase a toy with an older age recommendation, make certain that the toy is used only when you are playing with your baby, and that it is stored where your baby can't get to it without your supervision.

  • Remove rattles, squeeze toys, teethers, stuffed animals, and other small toys from the crib or bed when your baby goes to sleep for naps or bedtime. The exception here is a specialty made-for-baby toy that has been carefully created to be a safe sleeping lovey.

  • Avoid pull toys with long cords that could wind around your baby's neck. Pull toys for babies should have either very short strings or rigid handles.

  • Make sure toys are properly assembled, with no loose parts.

  • Beware of excessively loud toys. Babies tend to hold things close to their faces, and you want to protect your baby's sensitive ears.

  • Buy mobiles or crib toys from reputable manufacturers, and make sure that they attach to the crib without dangling strings. Remove mobiles and other crib toys once your baby can sit up.

  • Make sure that toys are never left on stairs, in doorways, or in walkways.

  • Your baby's toybox should have a special safety lid (or no lid at all) to prevent it from slamming on your baby's head or hands, or trapping your baby inside. There shouldn't be any hinges that could pinch little fingers.

  • Never give a baby a balloon, Styrofoam, or plastic wrap as a toy; these present a serious choking hazard, since they cannot be expelled using the Heimlich maneuver.

  • If a toy is second-hand (whether purchased from a second-hand store or garage sale, or given to you by a friend or relative), give all of the above rules extra consideration. If you have any doubts, always err on the side of safety and discard the toy. Don't let your baby play with a paint-finished toy that appears to be older than a few years - the paint may be lead-based, which poses serious hazards to a baby who touches or mouths it.

  • Keep toys (and parts of toys) designed for older children out of the hands of babies. Your baby may like to play with toys belonging to an older sibling or friend, but these are geared, safety-wise, to older kids and are not safe for little ones to use without very close supervision.

This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

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