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10 Mistakes New Parents Make That Could Put a Baby’s Life in Danger

Regardless of good intentions, the truth is, new parents inadvertently make mistakes all the time, some of which can put children in grave danger. Here's what you need to know so you don't repeat the same errors.

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Placing the infant carrier on top of shopping carts

Parents of infants often struggle to find ways to run errands with their baby. Should they bring a stroller or wear the baby in a carrier? It turns out either of these options is much safer than what many moms mistakenly do: balancing the infant carrier on top of a shopping cart. In 2011, a three-month-old boy died from injuries he suffered in a fall after his mother placed his carrier on top of a cart. Shopping carts are not constructed to restrain an infant carrier, and mothers mistakenly assume that because a carrier fits over the front part of the cart, it is a safe option. Mothers should wear their child in a carrier, or bring along a stroller, but they should never balance the infant seat on a cart. If you must use the cart as a place for your infant carrier, place the baby inside the cart where items are held, as it is the only safe option.

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carseatMaria Sbytova/Shutterstock

Turning the car seat forward too soon

Car seat safety is a hot topic among parents, with each parent feeling as though they know best. The truth of the matter is that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 59 percent of car seats are not used correctly, placing children at an increased risk for injury and death. David L. Hill, MD, pediatrician and Chicco safety spokesman is part of the company’s TurnAfter2 initiative to educate parents about the importance of keeping a child’s car seat rear-facing until the child turns two. Dr. Hill explains, “Children riding rear-facing are five times safer in the event of a crash, and that statistic alone should be enough to convince all parents to keep them rear-facing in the car as long as possible. By turning a child forward-facing too soon, you’re drastically increasing the risk for serious head and spinal injuries.” Many parents become concerned about their child’s legs appearing to be cramped while rear-facing, though Dr. Hoffman says, “First, your child’s legs looking cramped is not a reason to sacrifice safety, and toddlers are actually much more flexible than adults, so this position isn’t bothersome. More importantly, children should ride rear-facing until at least two-years old, until they reach the maximum length or weight requirements of the car seat.”

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foodSmolina Marianna/Shutterstock

Ignoring signs of food allergy

For first-time parents it can be difficult to differentiate between a simple upset tummy and a dangerous food allergy. When a baby shows discomfort that won’t subside, or reappears with each feeding, a parent is right to question if there is an underlying issue. Even infant formula can have ingredients that activate an allergy in babies, and the symptoms include a rash of any kind, stomach upset, bloody stool, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, among others. If you notice your child reacting negatively to food or infant formula, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician as soon as possible and discontinue feeding your child the food you suspect to be the culprit. Difficulty breathing or wheezing from an allergic reaction can be fatal; if your child experiences this, head straight to the emergency room.

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babyChristin Lola/Shutterstock

Allowing baby to sleep on nursing pillows unattended

New parents know that sleep is a precious commodity in the early days of parenting, both for them and their little one. While the rule “never wake a sleeping baby” has its place, it simply isn’t true when a baby is sleeping unattended on a nursing pillow. Nursing pillows are excellent tools for mothers when used as intended, as a way to prop an infant comfortably in reach of the breast. The nursing pillows become an infant safety hazard when used for naps or unattended sleep of any kind. According to, the pillows can and have caused accidental suffocation, when the sleeping infant’s head slips down into the curve of the pillow and the infant is unable to lift it back out. Your baby should always sleep on a firm, flat surface free of blankets, stuffed toys, and other items that could press against the face causing suffocation. Here are 12 baby gifts you might regret putting on your registry.

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eatingMaria Sbytova/Shutterstock

Starting solids too early

Every new parent delights in the thought of their baby beginning solid foods. The opportunity to see your baby’s reactions to different flavors, and find out if that old wives’ tale that you’ll get more sleep is actually true (it isn’t) is tempting. Whether breast or formula fed, there are scientific and medical reasons that your pediatrician recommends waiting until six months to begin feeding your baby foods from the table. According to the Mayo Clinic, around six months a baby is developmentally ready to learn how to move food from the front of the mouth to the back and swallow. This is also the time when an infant develops stomach enzymes that facilitate the digestion of solid foods, which are only produced in low levels prior to four to six months. The risks of feeding solid foods to an infant younger than four to six months include aspiration, decreased nutrition, upset stomach, and obesity.

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peanutbutterWhite bear studio/Shutterstock

Introducing peanut butter too late

Due to the findings of multiple studies, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recently released new guidelines for parents regarding the feeding of peanut products to infants. The NIH now recommends that parents of infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy feed their babies peanut containing foods beginning at four to six months. The studies found that infants with egg allergies or eczema can reduce their risk of a peanut allergy by 80 percent if fed peanut containing foods prior to one year of age. The released statement from the NIH strongly advises that infants with either of these conditions (which are associated with an increase risk of a peanut allergy) be examined by an allergist prior to trying any foods with peanuts. Parents with infants not at high risk for developing peanut allergies are advised to adhere to whatever age appropriate diet they prefer, as the studies focused on high-risk infants only.

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sleepingJuan Aunion/Shutterstock

Using crib bumpers

Most new parents love to decorate their baby’s nursery, and delight in making sure every last detail is color-coordinated and perfect. While there’s no harm in giving your baby posh new digs, the latest recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that a crib bumper of any kind (including those made of mesh material) not be used. According to their guidelines, crib bumpers provide no protection from injury, and only increase the risk of suffocation and strangulation. The guidelines also reiterate the recommendation that infants be placed on their back, on a firm, flat mattress free of any blankets, toys, or pillows. Find out why Finnish babies don’t sleep in cribs.

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Assuming baby is safe near water

Babies and children are drawn to water, and far too often it causes tragedy. To prevent every parent’s worst nightmare, recommends that parents of young children should always be within arms length of the child anytime they are near water. Every bit of water that is within a child’s reach should be considered a risk, including bathtubs, buckets used for car washing, rain barrels, and fountains, among others. Babies should never be placed next to ungated pools or bodies of water, even if they are immobile, a baby can roll or scoot themselves into danger without warning. Additionally, children should never be allowed in spas or hot tubs, as these can overheat children as well as easily cause drowning. Parents can never be too cautious when it comes to water safety, and while enrolling children in formal swim classes can give parents a sense of security in allowing their children to swim, it should never replace close adult supervision. Parents should also take care to minimize distractions such as phone use or working on a computer while their child is in or near water.

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Keeping your purse within reach

For infants and young children, their mothers purse can be a trigger of great curiosity. After all, you carry it everywhere—they know it must contain fun and important things! Mothers of young children should always place their purse on high counters and out of reach of little hands. Medications, pepper spray, nail clippers, scissors, and other protective but dangerous items can easily be found in handbags left sitting on the floor. Keep your handbag out of reach at all times and consider taking it one step further, and placing all dangerous items within your handbag in a child proof container.

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Not baby-proofing soon enough

Most parents with newborns resist the idea that baby-proofing is necessary early on. After all, how is a newborn going to get into the medicine cabinet? The truth is that new parents are busy, and that busyness only increases as a baby grows. Babies often give no warnings about their developmental milestones, so it is quite possible that your immobile six-month old will be able to scoot or roll themselves over to a cabinet and open the door, much to your surprise. To prevent future dangerous situations that can be easily overlooked, before your baby is born or soon after, explore your home on your hands and knees to get an idea what your little one will have access to. Locking cabinets and setting up baby gates is a good start, but you also need to secure all heavy furniture, televisions, and appliances, as babies will often use these to pull themselves up with when learning to stand, walk, and climb. (These new studies prove that babies are way smarter than you think.)

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.