It's been a while since anyone in my social circle had a visit from the stork, but friend Lisa is expecting at the end of November -- her first. She's already had one baby shower, and her large, doting family has outfitted her with enough onesies and assorted paraphernalia to last baby through college. Bernice and I conspired to give her something a little more tailored to her Type A, high-control personality: a visit from a professional babyproofer. "I'm a trained physical therapist, and my husband Mike was a Naval officer and a schoolteacher," said Kim Bost, who, with her husband, owns Baby Home Safety (www.babyhomesafety.net ; 619-287-3765). "As a physical therapist, I have some background in home safety, but I also trained with another babyproofer. I'm very glad I did, because it's really a matter of using the right products and making sure they're installed correctly. If not, it could be a safety hazard." Oh, the potential irony -- installing safety products that end up hurting your child.
"Typically, we go into the house and do a consult with the parents," said Bost. "We walk through the home and point out potential dangers and then provide solutions. Some people, if it's their first child, don't know what to expect. They have this little baby, maybe not even crawling yet, and they have no idea what the baby is going to get into. I try to help them see. I encourage parents to crawl around on the floor -- what they can find, the baby can find. They'll say to me, 'Well, he [or she] doesn't go over there.' Just because he's not doing it today doesn't mean he won't be doing it in two weeks. But at the same time, I try to steer people away from something that may be a solution today, but that they'll outgrow in a month."
An example of what Bost helps parents see: "People often don't know that toddlers can fall out of windows even when there's a window screen. If the screen fails when the child has his face pressed up against it.. . .There are several solutions. You can put in a window guard, which consists of bars that you attach by a bracket to the window frame. They're removable in case of fire, and you can open the window fully. You can also put in a window stop, which allows it to open about three to four inches for ventilation -- but it's not enough to let a child fall out. Or, you can just keep the window closed and locked. If it's a higher window, it's sometimes simply a matter of moving furniture away from the window, so the child doesn't have access."
Another potentially fatal hazard involves dressers and bookshelves. "If a child pulls open the drawers of a dresser and sends the center of gravity to the front, even a 20-pound child can pull the whole dresser over. Bookshelves and dressers should be bracketed to the wall." You can use an L bracket, or, if it's a shorter piece of furniture, you can use a cable bracket -- a cable connecting brackets on the furniture and in the wall.
And then there are those low-lying electrical outlets. Bost isn't a big fan of the plug covers. "Every time you vacuum, you need to pull a plug cover out. The baby is watching, so the baby is more inclined to pull the cover out. And people forget to put them back. What good is it to cover ten outlets if you have even one exposed? What I use is more convenient and safer. It's an outlet plate that replaces the standard faceplate. There's a spring-loaded slide cover; if a baby pulls out a plug, the cover snaps closed. That eliminates several hazards."
The plug covers aren't the only piece of safety equipment Bost avoids. She's no fan of pressure gates -- stairway blockers held in place by pressure exerted against the walls. "If a pressure gate is at the top of the stairs and it fails, the baby and the gate can go flying down the steps." She much prefers those that are hardware-mounted. "You want a gate that you can open and close with one hand; there's usually a child in the other. And it should be a swinging gate with a door in it -- never one you have to step over. My gates are highly rated, and I have drawer latches that are available only to babyproofers. Almost everything I sell I've used with my own children."
It's that kind of expertise -- the kind gained by experience and networking with other babyproofers -- that makes Bost attractive to parents frustrated by the way this or that product simply doesn't suit their home. She's happy to consult and let people know what they need (and sell it to them) or how to solve a specific safety hazard, but, she notes, "if we do the installation -- which usually takes a day -- everything is guaranteed." If something comes loose or breaks, she'll fix it.
The cost of babyproofing varies with the size of the home and the parents' preference. "Everybody has a different idea of how much babyproofing is appropriate for their home, their parenting style, and the activity level of the child." The basics -- cabinet latches, outlet covers, stair gates, furniture brackets, baby-safe doorstops, secured blind cords, and toilet locks -- run between $600 and $1200 for a typical two-story house. "That includes materials and installation."
Before we parted, Bost took a moment to describe her favorite new safety discovery. "For bathrooms, besides locks on toilets to keep lids down (babies have drowned in toilets), we recommend a spout cover for the tub, which protects children from bumps and bruises. At a trade show recently, I found a spout cover with a built-in thermometer and alarm. It's great, because baby skin is thinner than ours, more sensitive to burns. If the water coming out of the spout gets too hot, the alarm will beep and the spout cover will register the temperature." It's a more precise measure than "just trying to feel it with your fingers."