How to Baby-Proof an Apartment

Congratulations! With a little one on the way—or already here—you’ve found that you need to baby-proof your apartment.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about that and how to do it. As the parent of a very, very active child—who was born while we were staying in a two-story condo with a steep concrete staircase, large windows, and sliding glass doors—our work was cut out for us.

I hope I can take the edge off of some of the worry that can surround the idea of ensuring your baby is safe in your own home.

So let’s dive in, beginning with a few general points.

General Baby-Proofing Information: Caution, Costs, and When to Start Doing What

Err on the Side of Caution: Baby-Proof Before It Becomes Necessary

We will cover suggested time frames and ages to complete various parts of your baby-proofing. These timeframes and ages are only general in nature and you will always want to err on the side of caution. You know your own baby better than anyone else. 

If this is your first child, it is also extremely important to understand that your baby develops abilities quickly. One day, very early on, it may be perfectly safe to leave your baby napping on a bed (while you’re in the same room), while the next day, it may be very unsafe, as your baby has now learned to crawl ever so slightly and given time will make his or her way to and over the edge. Your baby’s ability to control their body well comes way, way after they learn to crawl, so please always, always, err on the side of caution and tackle baby-proofing before it becomes obvious that it is needed.

As you and your baby learn more about each other, you will be able to predict what else you need to do to feel and be safe.

Costs Involved in Baby-Proofing An Apartment

Compared to the cost of having and caring for a baby month-to-month, baby proofing costs are minimal. Much of what you need also serves two purposes, play and protection, as you’ll see here. The most costly thing you will need is a baby gate for some of the doors in your house, as well as the top and bottom of any staircases.

I think you can reasonably expect to spend no more than $300 – $400 to fully baby-proof a two-story apartment for a very active baby.

When to Baby Proof An Apartment

You can and should start looking at your apartment with a keen eye for safety while you’re pregnant, but most baby-proofing can be done between about months 2 or 3 and 6 or 7. You would do what needs to be done according to your baby’s abilities as they develop, leaving things like cabinet door baby locks for after you tackled the most pressing things like heights, hard surfaces, and sharp objects.

Of course, 2-6 months is a very generalized timeframe and you’ll want to baby-proof your apartment: a) When it feels right for you, and b) before it becomes necessary. My point, however, is mostly that baby-proofing can safely come after a gender reveal and baby shower, and after giving birth—since your little one won’t be moving around too much for at least the first week or three, during which time baby-proofing has more to do with your care and attention than it does to do with physical changes you need to make in the apartment.

You also don’t want to postpone baby-proofing needlessly, but if you find yourself incredibly busy during pregnancy, you will still have time to tackle baby-proofing after having your baby.

Your Baby Might Jump Off the Bed or Couch. It May Not Be On Purpose.

Your first baby “safety event”—if any are to occur—would most likely be your baby accidentally falling off the bed, a couch, or the changing table. What tends to happen to many (yes, many) parents is that they aren’t ready for it when their baby suddenly learns to move even more than they were previously able to, and one day they turn around only to find their baby is no longer on the bed or couch.

Babies go through little or large growth spurts usually after a change in sleeping habits: One day, perhaps they can’t crawl at all, the very next, they can crawl a little bit.

Their own control of their body comes way after they learn to crawl, and it’s during these developments that you want to anticipate what can occur and prevent it, rather than learning of it after the fact.

Beware of Button Batteries: They Can Be Fatal to Infants & Children.

Button batteries are much, much more than merely a choking hazard to infants and small children. Their electrical and chemical properties cause them to immediately start burning the skin they come into contact with, and may cause serious, life-threatening burns in as little as 2 hours. You can read more about button batteries here, but for now, keep them very well out of reach of children.

(Button batteries, also called lithium coin cell batteries, are the flat coin-sized batteries used in TV remotes, car key fobs, garage door openers, musical greeting cards, and even some baby toys. They are dangerous.)

Sequence of Baby-Proofing An Apartment

1. First, Handle Heights: Things Your Baby Could Fall Off Of.

Within the first 1-2 months of your baby’s life, falling from heights is the most dangerous and most likely accident to occur. Handling heights begins with simply being aware of the fact that, before anything else, your baby is most likely to fall off of something—the bed, the couch, the changing table. Thus, never, ever, leave your baby alone on any of these. If your baby is on a changing table, don’t take your eyes and a hand off of them. Don’t turn around to grab something. The bed may be safe, providing you are in the same room. The same applies to high chairs, which generally enter the picture between months 4 and 6. Never leave them unattended, and be very careful between the moments you remove the table portion of the highchair, and when you unstrap your baby. A baby strapped into a high chair (without a parent in direct physical contact with them) is usually NOT safe, since the straps on high chairs tend only to be seat-belt style, with nothing going over the shoulders.

If You Are Co-Sleeping, This Means Placing the Mattress on the Floor

If you and your partner have decided on co-sleeping, by the time your baby is 2-2½-months-old, your mattress should be on the floor. As your baby starts to gain more mobility, you should consider surrounding your mattress with pillows, since a jump—or a head-first dive which is more likely—off of the mattress is still a 9-12 inch drop that you don’t want.

You should very strongly consider moving your mattress off of your bed frame, and moving it from the hardwood or tiled portion of the condo, onto the ground in the carpeted portion of the condo.

Then, put additional effort into baby-proofing the carpeted portion of the condo, as that will likely become the area you and your baby will spend most of your time, though the tiled or hardwood floor portion should also be safely occupiable by the baby throughout the day.

2. Second, Set up ‘Safe Spaces:” Places Your Baby Can Safely Be

Important to your baby’s safety and your own sanity, very early on (and particularly if you work from home or are a SAHM), you’ll save yourself tremendous stress if you set up safe spaces for your baby to hang out in.

I don’t want to advocate leaving your baby alone in these for long periods of time while you aren’t present—you should likely never do so—but I also don’t want to needlessly stress you out. That said, what these safe spaces allow for specifically is for you to do something else other than a) physically carrying your baby around all day, or b) physically following right behind your baby all day as they crawl, and having to constantly redirect them away from the dangerous or less safe spaces in the house—the kitchen and bathroom and its tiled floors, or the area next to the staircase.

In our condo, these safe spaces and safe toys (discussed next) are placed near our desks, one of which is in the living room, the other of which is in the room right next to it—since we both work from home.

3. Third, Set up ‘Safe Things:” Toys Your Baby Can Safely Play In

In addition to the safe enclosed places where your baby can spend some time under less direct supervision, you will also want to have some bouncers and toys that your baby can spend some time in. 

To create safe spaces and safe things, I specifically recommend the following, though you might find other things that suit you, your baby, and your apartment even better.

Large Baby Play Pen

Set this up in the living room or other space near where you spend the most time. 

Foam Lettering

I recommend you use these whether you have a hardwood or tile floor or not, since the playpen pictured above has a frame made of metal pipes, which you don’t want your baby to be able to come into direct contact with. The foam lettering helps accomplish this and softens the whole area.

I recommend that you also buy and place these large padded letters. You can find them at Amazon, Target, or Walmart. Target sells great baby formula, but their lettering packs are expensive and inadequate when compared to Amazon or Walmart.

Baby Bouncer

Your baby can play around here. This one is pretty good and of the three we bought, this is the one she liked. This lets your baby bounce around and play while remaining in a single location

Baby Walker & Seater

Allows your baby to safely move around and have fun when bored with the bouncer or playpen.

4. Fourth, Handle (More) Tall Things: Objects That Can Fall On Your Baby, Or That Your Baby Can Accidentally Pull Down.

When your baby begins to crawl, which may occur as early as month 3 or as late as monthly 7 or 8, they will progressively start to pull up on things: the couch, a chair, a table leg. Never leave them unattended while crawling outside of your safely padded areas. A three-legged potted plant, for example, can quickly become unstable and fall on your baby while they try to lift themselves up with it.

Examples include:

  • Potted plants
  • Lights
  • Decorative statues or carvings
  • Anything else with only one “foot” or point of contact with the floor

5. Fifth, Cover Sharp Edges on Shelves and Cabinets

Before your baby starts crawling around and pulling themselves up with the help of various things around the house, you will want to ensure that the edges of bookshelves, AV cabinets, and other similar items are covered or are out of the way.

Bookshelves and other similar items are deceptively sharp. Your baby can be cut by these if they lift their head up and hit them from the underside, or when they are above them (while standing or crawling) and they accidentally or intentionally bring their head down from the top. You want to avoid both of these.

Shelves are best handled by moving them out of the area the baby will be spending time, or by wrapping the faces in something protective and padded. If your baby is pulling up onto shelves and other items, you will always want to be by their side.

Bookshelves: Put Heaviest Books on Lowest Shelves and Secure Shelf to Wall.

The heaviest books should be placed on the lowest shelves, and the bookshelf should be secured to the wall from behind. Doing both of these steps just about doubles the safety of a bookshelf.

6. Sixth, Separate Soft Surfaces from Hard Surfaces

If you have area rugs on top of hardwood or tile flooring in parts of the apartment, you will want to add padding under these rugs to ensure they not only look soft, but they are soft. Soft enough that if baby were to fall backward onto them, his or her fall would be sufficiently cushioned. What tends to occur is that as your baby becomes more and more mobile, you will, correctly so, not want to stop them from exploring, and testing, and improving their abilities to move around. (You want them to be safe. You don’t want them to not learn and not advance their own ability to safely use and control their body.) By ensuring the areas that appear soft—like an area rug—are actually soft, you can give them more leeway in these areas compared to what you would allow in the hardwood or tile floor areas.

7. Partition Off Sliding Glass Windows

Babies tend to love blinds, especially if they’re moving in the A/C draft. There’s not a particularly great way to make glass doors baby proof so partitioning off that part of the apartment is usually the best solution.

8. Cover Electrical Outlets

Your baby’s fingers can fit into the grounding hole of an electrical outlet, and possibly even the electrified portions. Cheap plugs are available to cover all of the unused electrical outlets in the house. Do this before your baby starts crawling, or earlier if there are outlets on the ground.

9. Lock Drawers and Cabinets

Cabinet drawers and doors that can be opened from closer to ground level should be secured closed with small plastic pieces that are made for this. This should be done in the kitchen and any other area of the house with cabinet doors. You can usually do this by month 7 or 9, but be sure to do it before your baby is crawling around the apartment and exploring.

10. Cover Door Knobs

Plastic covers should be added to doorknobs. These make it difficult for a child to open the door. These are typically needed only after your baby has learned to walk and can reach door handles, which may be by their second or third birthday.

Baby-Proofing: Your Mindset as Parent

In the early parts of your baby’s life, “baby-proofing” concerns cautions that you take personally:

  • Never leaving baby unattended on the changing table.
  • Never leaving the room while your baby is on a bed or couch.
  • Knowing their abilities and limitations—and that they may change overnight.
  • Knowing that your baby will put their curiosity before their sense of safety.
  • Acting from the understanding that you alone are all that is keeping your baby safe.

As your baby becomes more and more able to move, in addition to maintaining a safety-conscious mindset, actual physical changes have to be made to the apartment. These are all outlined above in steps 1-10, though you may find that additional steps are required depending on the type of apartment you live in.

Batteries, Coins, Bottle Tops, and Cords

At all early ages—and particularly while your baby is teething—you will also want to ensure you don’t leave things around the apartment and within reach of your baby that would fit into your baby’s mouth.

This includes things like the tops of water bottles, coins, and batteries. Your baby will most likely love the TV remote, so be sure to remove the batteries from it entirely before giving it to them to play with (if you decide the remote isn’t off-limits to them).

Electrical cords are another thing babies tend to love playing with. I strongly suggest that you treat all cords as electrified (plugged in) and that you keep them away from your baby. Simply give them something else to chew on and keep cords out of reach as much as possible.

With a keen mind, baby-proofing begins to come as you and your baby get to know each other better and better.

The steps above should cover you well. Congratulations!

XOXO, Autumn

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