Child safety gates may not always be safe

According to a recent study, nearly 2,000 children in the United States are treated in emergency departments every year from injuries resulting from falling through or climbing on baby safety gates. Most injuries weren't serious. But the researchers say parents should know about precautions.

Susan Helms, director of Injury Prevention and Safe Kids Mid-South, shares when to use gates, what types are best and how to prevent injuries.

When should gates be used?

When baby starts crawling, strategically placed gates can make your life a little easier – and your child a lot safer by keeping him away from potential dangers, such as stairs. You can also use a gate to keep your child and pet separated.

Child safety gates are intended for children between 6 months and 2 years of age. Once a child learns how to open a gate, or can climb over it, it should no longer be relied upon as a safety device.

Two types of gates

1. Hardware-mounted gates are bolted to framing inside the walls of your home. They're appropriate where there's a chance of your child falling, such as the top of a stairway, whether indoors or out.

2. Pressure-mounted gates simply press on opposing walls. They should be used only where falling isn't a hazard, such as between two rooms or to discourage your little explorer from climbing up stairs. Pressure-mounted gates are not secure enough to use at the top of stairs, so never use them that way, no matter how much you want to avoid drilling holes into your walls. Avoid accordion-style gates without a top filler bar and gates with horizontal slats or tempting footholds

Things to look for when purchasing a gate

  • A child safety gate that's certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. A sticker from the JPMA on the frame or packaging indicates that the manufacturer claims to have met international voluntary safety standards for the gate. The standards address a variety of safety and performance issues, including the strength of the components, the size of the openings (to prevent finger or toe entrapment), and the integrity of the latch. It specifies that the gate should be no less than 22 inches tall, and that the distance between the bottom of the gate and the floor should be less than 3 inches, so that a small torso can't pass through and there's minimal risk of a head or neck getting stuck.
  • About half of all injuries associated with child safety gates involve adults who trip or fall when trying to step or jump over one. Pressure-mounted gates also have a threshold at the bottom that poses a tripping hazard. Make sure any gate you buy is easy for you to open so you won't be tempted to climb over it.
  • Choose a gate with a straight top edge and closely spaced, rigid, vertical slats or a fine mesh screen. If you choose a model with mesh panels, look for a fine weave, because wider holes could provide a foothold for climbing or trap fingers. Follow the safety recommendations in the owner's manual for installing and using gates.

Finally, no gate is a substitute for careful supervision of your baby or toddler. Never leave your child unattended.

safety, infant