Health and Safety, Birth to 2 Years

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Health and Safety, Birth to 2 Years

Topic Overview

This topic suggests ways to help prevent illness and accidental injuries in babies and young children. It does not cover every risk that a child faces, but it does cover many of the most common hazards and situations that can be dangerous to a child in this age range.

Why should you be concerned about your baby’s health and safety?

Watching your child grow is a wonder. But there are concerns in this age range:

  • Your child cannot understand and recognize danger. You need to take steps to keep your child safe from everyday hazards both inside and outside the home.
  • Your child’s immune system is not fully developed. This makes it more likely that your child will get bacterial and viral infections and more likely that these infections will be dangerous.

What can you do to help keep your child safe?

You can:

  • Supervise your child both inside and outside the house. For example, always use a car seat, and watch your child closely when he or she interacts with pets.
  • Practice healthy habits to protect your child against illness and infection. For example, wash your hands often and keep toys clean, make sure your child is immunized, and go to all well-child visits.
  • Take safety measures around the home. For example, use sliding gates in front of stairs, and keep rubber bands and other small objects out of reach. And always place your baby to sleep on his or her back.

No one can watch a child’s every move or make a home 100% safe all the time. Try to find a balance among supervising your child, taking safety precautions, and allowing your child to explore.

What kinds of equipment can be hazardous?

Car seats, cribs, strollers, playpens, and high chairs are all often used by infants and toddlers up to age 2. If any of this equipment is worn or broken, or if you use it incorrectly, it can be dangerous.

If you purchase or are given used equipment, make sure it meets current safety standards and has not had any safety recalls. You can check recall information from Health Canada's Product Safety Programme (PSP) online at

How can your stress level affect your child's safety?

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of keeping your child safe. Most injuries to children occur when parents or caregivers are tired, hungry, or emotionally drained or are having relationship problems. Other common causes of family stress include changes in daily routines, moving to a new house, or expecting another child.

Learn all you can about child growth and development. Doing so can help you learn what to expect and how to handle certain situations.

If you feel stressed, get help. Talk to your doctor or your child’s doctor, or see a counsellor. Get together regularly with friends, or join a parenting group.

Call 911 right away if you feel you are about to hurt yourself or your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about health and safety issues:

Protection against harmful germs:

Identifying household hazards:

Identifying hazards outside the home:

The importance of parental self-care:

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Healthy Habits for Preventing Infection and Illness

The immune systems of babies and young children up to 24 months of age are still developing. This makes them especially prone to getting sick after being exposed to viruses and bacteria. Exposure to common pathogens can occur from person-to-person contact and from improperly prepared food. Good hygiene practices can help you protect your child from exposure to these germs.

Safe food preparation

You can help protect your child from getting sick by paying attention to safe food practices.

  • Prepare food safely. Help reduce the chance that your child will become ill from food poisoning. Wash your hands, keep kitchen areas clean, and prepare foods properly.
  • Shop safely. Raw meats, seafood, and eggs can contaminate other foods they touch. Keep these items wrapped in plastic and away from fresh foods in your shopping cart. Look closely at all items, and don't buy those that have signs of spoilage or damage.
  • Cook foods safely. Foods that have been in contact with raw meat need to be cooked thoroughly to prevent the growth of bacteria. The specific temperature varies by type of food.
  • Store foods safely. Keep food temperatures at safe levels to prevent bacterial growth that can cause illness. Also take special care when storing breast milk or formula for bottle-feedings. Bacteria grow quickly in warm breast milk or formula that is left at room temperature. After bottle-feeding your baby, immediately discard the milk or formula that is left in the bottle. Promptly refrigerate fresh breast milk or formula if it is not needed right away. Also, clean and disinfect all bottles before each use.
  • Follow labels on food packaging. Look for expiration dates on perishable foods before you buy or eat them. Also, follow any cooking guidelines provided, such as temperature and cooking time.
  • Do your best to choose restaurants that handle food safely.

For more information, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.

Protect against the spread of illness and germs

Germs spread easily from person to person. Cold and flu viruses usually affect the most people during the colder months, although they can develop at any time of the year. Babies and young children have a higher risk for secondary infections from these illnesses. Take extra care to help protect your child against infections.

  • Get your child immunized. Immunizations, also called vaccinations, help protect your child from diseases. Immunizations start at birth and are scheduled into adulthood. For more information, see the topic Immunizations.
  • Be aware of the higher risk of germs in public areas. Avoid exposing your child to a large crowd if he or she has been ill recently or has an otherwise weakened immune system, especially when a contagious illness is going around. Also, it may help to have disposable wipes and a hand sanitizer available to clean hands and to wipe off shopping carts or other shared items in public places.
  • Avoid close contact with others who are obviously sick. If your child is ill, avoid contact with other children until the contagious period is over. Talk to your doctor if you are not sure about how long your child is likely to be contagious.
  • Wash hands frequently, including after every diaper change. Keeping your hands clean is an obvious, but often overlooked, way to prevent the spread of germs. Also wash your baby's hands after he or she has a bowel movement, because a baby can touch his or her messy bottom without your being aware of it.
  • Wash and disinfect surfaces and toys. Areas where germs collect, such as the kitchen and bathroom, also should be kept clean and frequently disinfected.
  • Teach good hygiene habits early, especially if your child is frequently around many children, such as at daycare. For example, teach your child to cover his or her mouth when coughing or sneezing, preferably using a tissue so germs do not get on the hands. Also show your child how to wipe his or her nose with tissues. Babies and young children may not understand your instructions, but repetition will help them remember these concepts as they grow.

Visit the doctor regularly

Go to all well-child visits, during which the doctor gives your child a physical examination. The doctor will ask you about your child's development and whether you have any concerns.

Immunizations are also given at well-child visits. Immunizations provide important protection for your child against harmful diseases. The standard immunization schedule outlines the recommended vaccinations and the ages at which they should be given.

Safety Measures Around the Home

From birth to age 2, children depend on parents and other caregivers for their safety. Safety issues change and increase rapidly in number as newborns grow into toddlers. It is important to consider your child's physical and mental development when evaluating current and future hazards.

Although close supervision is important, it is not realistic to think that you can watch your child's every move. Also, constantly hovering over your child can limit his or her experiences and confidence. Balancing supervision with safety precautions will not only help prevent accidents and injuries but also allow your child to explore and discover.

Taking the time to research and adopt safe habits can help to prevent common accidents and injuries that can occur around the house.

Use safe baby products

In Canada, safety standards for children's equipment, furniture, clothing, and other items are set by Health Canada's Product Safety Programme (PSP). Although most new items you purchase will likely meet these standards, older and used items may not. Equipment that has been used before, such as a baby carrier, may not be safe. These items may have wear and tear that affects how they function. The PSP may also have recalled some items because of reported hazards.

Check that all the products your baby uses meet current standards. The following list provides safety information for items frequently used by children up to age 2:

  • Cribs should meet all current safety standards, such as having no more than 6 cm (2 3/8 in.) of space between slats.1 Lower the mattress and remove mobiles and large stuffed toys from the crib as your baby grows. Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), and other professional organizations do not recommend the use of bumper pads in cribs because of the increased risk of serious injury for infants, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Don't use sleep positioners.
  • Baby walkers should not be used, according to recommendations from the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). Currently, it is illegal to advertise, sell, or import baby walkers in Canada because of the risk of serious injury for young children. A stationary activity centre is a better choice.
  • Playpens should have spaces in the mesh material that do not exceed 0.6 cm (0.25 in.) across. Wooden slats should measure no more than 6 cm (2 3/8 in.) apart.1 Be careful about the toys you put in the playpen. As your children grow, they can get tangled in mobiles or may use larger toys as steps to boost them out of the enclosure.
  • High chairs should have a wide, stable base. Always take time to make sure the high chair is locked in the upright position before use. If you need to use a seat that hooks onto a table, make sure it locks onto the table. And make sure your baby can't push against the table support. Use the safety straps, and supervise your child at all times while he or she is in the high chair.
  • Changing tables should have a railing on all sides that is 2 in. (5.1 cm) high. A slightly indented changing surface is also recommended. Always use the safety strap, and keep one hand on your child. Have diapers and other items handy, but keep them out of your child's reach.

To help you keep track of important safety features, see the topic Nursery Equipment Safety Checklist.

For more information about equipment standards from the PSP, see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.

Safe sleeping and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome is one of the most common causes of death for babies 1 month to 12 months old. Most babies who die of SIDS are 2 to 4 months old. Although SIDS cannot be predicted or completely prevented, placing your baby to sleep on his or her back can help prevent this tragedy. For more information, see the topic Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that babies sleep in their own crib or bassinet for the first year of life. But if you choose to sleep together in the same bed, take precautions to make bed sharing safer. Do not ever share a bed with your baby if you smoke, have had alcohol, used medicine that makes you sleep soundly (sedatives), or used illegal drugs. Never sleep with a baby on a couch or armchair.

Preventing falls

You can prevent many falling accidents by using common sense and appropriate equipment that meets all safety standards. Recognize new hazards that your baby will encounter as he or she learns to scoot, crawl, and walk.

  • As soon as your baby can walk, lock doors to all dangerous areas.
  • Use sliding gates at both ends of stairs. Look for a gate with openings no bigger than 6 cm (2 3/8 inches). Do not use accordion-style gates, because a child's head could get caught.
  • Install window guards. Or use a window stop so that sliding windows won't open more than 10 cm (4 in.).
  • Don't allow children to climb on high furniture.
  • Do not use baby walkers.
  • Be careful when using equipment such as high chairs and changing tables. Always use the safety straps, and keep a close eye on your child.


Help prevent your child from choking by offering the right kinds of foods and keeping an eye out for choking hazards.

  • Learn to recognize the signs of choking so you can react quickly. For example, a child who is choking can't talk, cry, breathe, or cough. For more information, see the topic Choking Rescue Procedure (Heimlich Maneuver).
  • Know how to select and prepare foods. For example, choose soft foods that can be cut up into small pieces, such as cooked carrots. Avoid round, firm foods such as hot dogs, grapes, nuts, and raisins.
  • Establish certain areas for eating, such as the kitchen table or dining room. Teach your child to sit down while he or she is eating and to chew carefully. Don't force a child to eat when he or she is not hungry. These practices will also help your child to build lifelong healthy eating habits.
  • Keep small objects out of your child's reach. In general, objects smaller than 3.2 cm (1.25 in.) in diameter and 5.8 cm (2.25 in.) long are choking hazards. Examples include coins, buttons, and bottle caps.
  • Do not allow your child to eat while he or she is walking, running, playing, or riding in a car.
  • Never leave rubber bands or deflated balloons around the house where children can reach them.
  • Do not allow young children to chew gum or eat hard candy.

Strangulation and suffocation

A young child can strangle from a variety of household items. Protect your child by minimizing these hazards:

  • Keep cords for blinds and drapes out of your child's reach. Attach cords to mounts that hold them taut, and wrap them around wall brackets.
  • Cords with loops should be cut and given safety tassels instead.
  • Never use accordion-style gates. A baby or young child may trap his or her head in the gate and may strangle.
  • Make sure that furniture does not have cutout portions or other areas that can trap your child's head.
  • Be careful with baby slings. Keep your child's chin up and keep his or her nose and mouth away from the fabric. Make sure you can see your baby's face.

Suffocation is another danger for young children. Teach your child about suffocation and the importance of a safe play area. Pay attention to possible suffocation dangers, such as:

  • Trunks of cars. Keep rear fold-down seats closed so children are not able to climb into the trunk from inside the car. Also, always lock car doors, and keep the keys out of your child's sight and reach.
  • Refrigerators and freezers, even those that are not in use. If you are storing an old refrigerator or freezer, remove the door.
  • Plastic sacks. Do not let your child play with plastic sacks, and keep them out of his or her reach. Many children like to play with sacks and put them over their heads.


To prevent poisoning, identify household cleaners and other chemicals, plants, medicines, makeup, perfumes, and any other products that can harm a child who eats or inhales them. It is critical to properly store these items out of reach of young children. If you have a possible poisoning emergency, call 911 or your provincial poison control centre immediately. For more information, see the topic Poisoning.

Lead poisoning is another cause for concern in young children who may chew on contaminated paint flakes, painted objects, or toys. House paint is no longer made with lead, but older homes may still have it on walls and other surfaces. For more information about lead, see the topic Lead Poisoning.

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by frequently monitoring levels and taking precautionary measures, such as having your home's heater checked each year. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas. It is produced from burning fuels such as natural gas, gasoline, fuel oil, or wood (for example, in indoor heating systems, car engines, cooking appliances, or fires). High CO levels quickly affect young children because of their small size. For more information, see the topic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Indoor air pollutants, such as secondhand smoke and mold, can also affect health and safety. For more information, see Tips for Reducing Indoor Pollutants in Your Home.

Fire hazards

Prevent household fires by keeping and maintaining smoke detectors and planning and practicing escape routes.


Burns are caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, radiation, or friction. Protect your child from burn injuries by identifying dangers in your home and taking measures to remove or block your child's access to them.

  • Heat burns can be prevented by keeping your child away from fire, steam, hot water, and other hot liquids and objects. Do not heat bottled formula or breast milk in the microwave, because hot spots in the liquid can burn a baby's mouth and throat. Consider buying flame-resistant pajamas for your child.
  • Electrical burns can be prevented by keeping electrical cords out of your child's reach and using safety covers on all electrical outlets. During electrical storms, keep your child indoors and away from windows.
  • Chemical burns can be prevented by keeping all chemicals out of children's reach. Acid, such as from batteries, and alkaline products, such as drain cleaners, are especially dangerous.
  • Sunburns (radiation burns) can permanently damage a child's skin. Children younger than 6 months should stay out of the sun entirely. Keep young children out of the sun, or have them use sun-protection measures while they are outdoors.
  • Friction burns are usually minor injuries. Rough play or falls may cause these burns in babies or young children.
  • Enjoy fireworks from a distance. Almost half of the people injured by summer fireworks are children younger than age 15.2 Children can also get burns from using and being around firecrackers and sparklers.

Guns and other weapons

Gun and firearm safety measures should be established for all households and especially those where children live or visit. All guns and firearms should be kept in a locked area, unloaded, and out of reach of children. Also store knives (even kitchen knives), swords, and other weapons safely out of reach.


Pets are found in many households. Children who live in homes without pets are likely to encounter animals in other environments. Many injuries can be avoided by teaching children how to properly interact with pets. And pet owners who train and keep their animals healthy are less likely to have problems when children are around.


Drowning is the second most common cause of unintentional death from injury among young children in Canada.3 Never leave your child alone near water, and always follow these water safety recommendations:

  • Supervise all baths at all times. Always stay within an arm's reach of your child, and never leave your child alone in the tub—even with an older sibling.
  • Control access to water in your home. Keep large bodies of water, such as a pond or a pool, fenced. Empty all buckets and coolers when they are not in use. Keep toilet lids down. And don't let your toddler go into the bathroom without an adult.
  • Keep pool areas safe. When visiting public or private pools, keep your child within arm's reach. If you have your own pool, make sure to follow all your local safety codes. These usually are available from your city's planning department.
  • Keep your child away from irrigation canals and hot tubs. Do not let your child play in or near them.

In addition to these precautions, learn first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It can make the difference between life and death.

Safety Measures Outside the Home

You cannot protect your child from every danger he or she can possibly encounter outside the home. But you can take reasonable precautions and teach your child basic safety rules. This general training can help prepare your child for many situations he or she may face.

Prevent accidents by using safe equipment, teaching safety awareness, and closely supervising your child.

  • Always use a car seat and have your child ride in the backseat of your car. Car accidents are the leading cause of death and injury in young children. Many injuries and deaths can be avoided by using proper child restraints. For every ride in a vehicle, make sure your child is securely strapped into a properly installed car seat that meets all current safety standards. For more information, visit the Transport Canada website at
  • Never leave your child alone in a car. Heat inside a car could cause long-lasting injury or death in just minutes. A young child's body temperature can go up 3 to 5 times faster than that of an adult. Keeping the car windows down will not protect your child in hot or warm weather. Other injuries could also occur from a child getting stuck in the trunk or setting the car in motion.
  • Help your child become "street smart." Teach your child the basic rules about the dangers of cars and streets.
  • Teach proper behaviour around animals. Teach your child how to interact with different types of pets and other animals that he or she may come across while outside your home.
  • Begin teaching your young child swimming safety. Knowing proper behaviour while in and around water can help prevent a drowning accident. If you have a swimming pool at home, be sure to take safety measures. If you live near irrigation canals, keep your child away from them.
  • Use insect repellents to prevent bites and stings. Also, take action to lower your child's chances of being stung by an insect by having your child wear socks, closed shoes, and clothes that fully cover his or her body when outdoors.

Before your child visits an unfamiliar home, ask the homeowner whether you need to be aware of any dangerous areas, pets, or other safety issues. It is always a good idea to see the household for yourself. Don't be afraid to voice any concerns you have about safety. You are ultimately responsible for protecting your child.

Before enrolling your child in daycare, evaluate the environment and talk with care providers. Ask questions about their safety guidelines. Identify any hazards, and ask how they are handled. Inspect the food preparation area, and ask how often it is cleaned and what kinds of cleaning products are used. For more information, see the topic Choosing Child Care.

Going along for the ride

When you include your child in your activities, be sure to recognize the related safety issues. And focus on your child's comfort and safety.

  • Keep your child safe in strollers and carts. Watch him or her closely. Use the safety straps, and follow the printed instructions. For example, signs on shopping carts usually advise you not to put a child in the area that is reserved for shopping items.
  • Prevent sunburn. If you can’t keep your baby out of the sun, cover your child’s skin with hats and clothing. Protect any bare skin with a small amount of sunscreen. It’s safest to keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun. Do not use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old. Be careful that your child does not develop heat exhaustion from being out in warm temperatures. Small bodies can develop these problems much more quickly than adults. Do not keep your child out in warm weather for long periods, and keep water or other drinks on hand. For more information, see the topics Sunburn and Heat-Related Illnesses.
  • Monitor air pollution when planning to take your child outdoors. Children's lungs are especially sensitive to pollution. You can check your newspaper or local weather station for details about air pollution levels.
  • Watch for physical signs that show it's safe to gradually include your child in your activities. When children can run or climb, it's usually a good sign that they are getting stronger and can keep their balance. Before and after these signs appear, use good judgment for your baby's comfort and safety.
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Parent Self-Care

Gaining confidence

Many parents wonder whether they are equipped to handle the responsibility of keeping their child safe. You will likely feel more confident if you are alert, take all the precautions you can, and know how to respond to emergencies.

  • Learn first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Classes usually are offered through your local hospital or fire department.
  • Read and learn about child growth and development. Knowing what to expect can help ease the fear of the unknown.
  • Join a support group. Parenting groups can help you learn new skills as well as help ease emotional issues of having a new child. Groups differ in their focus. Some target specific concerns, such as breast-feeding, while others offer parents a chance to get together with their children for playtime and visiting. Contact a local hospital or religious group, or ask your doctor for resources in your area.

Connection between parent well-being and child safety

Taking care of yourself is a vital part of keeping your child safe. Although accidents can occur at any time, most happen during times of excess stress, such as when:4

  • Parents and children are hungry and tired, especially right after work and before dinner.
  • Another baby is expected.
  • There is an illness or death in the family.
  • Relationship problems develop.
  • Major changes in your routine or environment occur. This can happen when your child's caregiver changes, when you move to a new house, or even before you go on holiday.

Recognize the signs of stress and what situations cause it. Be extra careful during these times, and ask for help when you need it. Also, work on taking care of your personal relationships.

For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

Seeking help

All parents have times when they feel exhausted, frustrated, angry, sad, or overwhelmed. Recognize that this is a normal part of being human and being a parent. But if these feelings become too much for you to handle alone, keep your child safe by getting help. For example, when your emotions are too much for you to handle alone, you may not have the energy or desire to watch your child as closely as you should. Some parents injure their children when their emotions cause them to shake, hit, or push a child. This can result in injury to the child such as shaken baby syndrome, which can cause lasting brain damage or even death.

Call 911 immediately if you feel you are about to injure yourself or your child.

Places to go for help include:

For more information on physical harm to children, see the topics Shaken Baby Syndrome and Child Abuse and Neglect. For more information on handling difficult emotions, see the topics Depression, Anxiety, and Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behaviour.

Other Places To Get Help

Online Resource

Health Canada Consumer Product Safety Programme
Health Canada Consumer Product Safety
Web Address:

This Web site provides updated information on product safety and potential hazards. It also provides links to specific information such as product recalls and child safety issues.


Canadian Immunization Awareness Program
Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion (CCIAP)
Web Address:

The Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion (CCIAP) is a coalition of national organizations committed to promotion and education on immunization. Its Web site includes information on immunizations, diseases, and vaccines for adults and children.

Canadian Paediatric Society
2305 Saint Laurent Boulevard
Ottawa, ON  K1G 4J8
Phone: (613) 526-9397
Fax: (613) 526-3332
Web Address:

The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) promotes quality health care for Canadian children and establishes guidelines for paediatric care. The organization offers educational materials on a variety of topics, including information on immunizations, pregnancy, safety issues, and teen health.

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
1433 North Highway 89
Suite 110
Farmington, UT 84025
Phone: 800-447-9360
Fax: 801-447-9364
Web Address:

Sometimes babies cry at more times than at others. This website from the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (U.S.) offers information to help parents and caregivers understand normal crying behaviour and offers soothing options.

Safe Kids Canada
180 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON  M5G 1Z8
Phone: (416) 813-6766
Fax: (416) 813-4986
Web Address:

Safe Kids Canada is a national injury prevention program provided by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The Web site provides information on keeping children safe and preventing injuries.



  1. Health Canada, Consumer Product Safety (2010). Cribs and cradles. Available online:
  2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2010). Fireworks-related injuries. Available online:
  3. Canadian Paediatric Society (2004). Swimming lessons for infants and toddlers. Paediatrics and Child Health, 8(2): 113–114. Available online:
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Keeping your child safe. In SP Shevlov et al., eds., Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 457–506. New York: Bantam.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, reaffirmed 2010). Falls from heights: Windows, roofs, and balconies. Pediatrics, 107(5): 1188–1191.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics (accessed November 2008). Pool safety for children. The Injury Prevention Program (TIPP). Available online:
  • Government of Canada (2010). Cribs and cradles. Available online:
  • Government of Canada (2010). Playpens. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Last Revised July 29, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.