By Clara Jones
Spoiling babies with toys is one of the biggest pleasures of parenting. So, there’s naturally an enormous market for playthings for children aged four years and younger. This group encompasses newborns, infants, and toddlers, and the choice of what to get your bundle of joy is broad. But parents need to be aware of more than just whether or not their babies will enjoy the gift they’re getting.
Devastating reports of babies getting hurt or even killed by hazardous toys end up in the news far too often. But you can stay out of the headlines by educating yourself about the potential danger in seemingly innocuous toys and applying what you know when you’re purchasing something special for your little one.
Brightly colored balloons are part and parcel of birthday parties, and the good news is that they are totally safe once they’re blown up. But don’t ever let anyone under the age of eight inflate their own balloons!
It’s actually frighteningly easy to accidentally inhale the balloon when you take an in-breath to blow it up. This is one of the leading causes of children’s death by suffocation, so it’s always best to keep a watchful eye when celebrating a special occasion.
- Dolls and Plush Toys
Who would’ve thought that the gorgeous little doll or soft, snuggly plush toy you just purchased posed such a risk to babies? But although they’re unexpected, the dangers are certainly there, and you need to be aware of the risk of aspiration when they’re playing with these.
The danger zone is the doll’s hair, or, in the case of plush toys, the fake fur they’re covered in. If hair or fur gets pulled out or falls out, your baby can get it in their mouth. This means they could breathe it back into their lungs, resulting in air constriction and choking.
Another risk is that these items, particularly if your baby sleeps with one, could potentially cover their faces and suffocate them. Experts actually advise parents to not allow babies to sleep with soft toys for the first year of their lives since these can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
After 12 months, the risk of SIDS decreases dramatically, and beloved plush toys are welcome in cribs at bedtime.
- Fidget Spinners
The fidget spinner craze the world got caught in back in 2017 has mercifully ebbed, but they’re still very much a part of the toy market. These small toys pose serious safety hazards for kids under three years old because of the small parts that they’re made of.
These are choking hazards, and the versions of these toys that light up frequently contain dangerous coin-cell batteries. If your baby puts them in their mouths, they can break teeth and cause other types of oral damage. There are plenty of other safe educational toys for babies and young kids that offer just as much stimulation, if not more.
Magnets, especially high-powered ones, are usually found inside sets that allow your kid to create different shapes and sculptures. They are a major hazard, however, and you should be aware of how potentially dangerous they can be.
This is especially true if your baby swallows two or more since the magnets will be attracted to one another right through the child’s intestinal wall. This will result in them getting trapped in place and could cause damage to the stomach, severe pain, and, in the worst-case scenario, death. They can often only get removed surgically too.
- Tiny Balls and Marbles
Little ones are notorious for putting whatever they can reach into their mouths. This is why there are such strict regulations around the size of toys marketed for children younger than three years old. They have to be at least 1.5 inches in diameter and clearly labeled as for children over a certain age.
Marbles and little rubber balls obviously fall into this category and they are dangerous because it’s so easy for a child to stick them in their mouths. This can cause asphyxiation, which can quickly become life threatening.
- Toys With Small Batteries
Coin-cell batteries are small and round, resembling a button, and are used in many different things these days. You’ll find them in many toys and they’re a risk because they can resemble a piece of candy to a curious kid!
Make sure your baby can’t get to the batteries if they have a toy that uses them and don’t ever leave these lying around. You should also check the battery compartment of all electronic toys frequently to ensure they’re properly screwed on.
- Toy Chests
Yes, it’s not just playthings themselves that can be dangerous. The box you use to neaten up your baby’s room and keep things tidy should also be something you’re always aware of.
If your toy chest has a heavy lid, your child leaning into the box or using an edge to pull themselves up into a standing position could easily hurt their head or neck if it slams down. Think about removing the lid and using a small comforter that doubles as a play mat to cover the box, or switch to open-topped baskets and bins to store toys out of the way.
- Toys with Cords and Strings
If your baby has a toy with a cord or a string that exceeds seven inches, it’s a potential hazard. These cords can wrap around your child’s neck and strangle them, so make sure that this length is never exceeded. Don’t hang toys with wires, ribbons, or strings in cribs and playpens. It’s also advised that crib gyms get removed entirely when your child can pull themselves up onto their hands and knees.
Stay Alert and Aware
As the saying goes, being forewarned is forearmed. Educating yourself about the toys your child plays with on a regular basis will go a long way towards keeping them safe.
Along with keeping these specific pieces of advice in mind when you’re shopping for toys, the most important thing you can do to protect your baby is be present when you’re with them. Get involved in their activities and keep your wits about you to spot lurking danger. You should also check your child’s toys on a regular basis to assess their condition and identify any hazards early on.
Proper supervision is a vital part of keeping your little one out of harm's way.
Clara Jones is a Dutch-American editor in the field of business processes, business communication, and project management. When she has the extra time, she enjoys reading books and doing yoga.