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Baby-Proofing 101

The only thing more overwhelming than bringing home your first baby is reading all the things the experts say about how to keep that precious little person safe. Well, rest easy, Mama. We did the research for you and culled it down to a Top 9 list. (What, you wanted 10? We promise, 9 is quite enough.)

Purchase a new crib. "Be wary of cribs that are hand-me-downs or garage sale finds," says Dr. Garry Gardner, a pediatrician in Darien, Ill., and chairman of the Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Older cribs may have sides that drop down unexpectedly, particularly if they were assembled incorrectly. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission's latest crib regulations went into effect in June 2011, so check when your crib rolled off the assembly line.

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Keep the crib clear. Tug a tight-fitting sheet over a firm crib mattress, and leave it at that, says Debra Holtzman, an attorney, and author of The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living. That means, she says, "No pillows, blankets, quilts, comforters, bumper pads, sleep positioners, sheepskins, stuffed toys and other soft products." They may be cute, but they are suffocation hazards. To keep baby warm, slip her into a one-piece sleeper. If you think she still might be chilly, pop a blanket sleeper over that.

Put baby to sleep on his back. The first two to three months are "the primary risk time for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)," Dr. Gardner says. Of course, some babies want to sleep on their sides or their stomachs. Hold off as long as possible—preferably until the baby rolls over on his own, at around four months, says Dr. Gardner. Side and tummy sleeping is a particular danger for newborns who can't yet turn their heads easily from side to side when lying down and so are at risk of suffocation, he says.

Create a "safe zone" around the crib. Remove any possible nearby sources of falls, strangulation, suffocation or burns. That includes cords of all kinds (window-covering cords and baby monitor cords, to name a couple); unlocked windows and climbable furniture; heating sources; and anything hanging on or above the crib with a string or ribbon longer than 7 inches.

Always keep a hand on the baby at the changing table. They can roll off faster than you can turn around.

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Never leave a baby alone in the bathroom. Where there's water, there's risk of drowning. "Let the doorbell go. Let the phone ring," Dr. Gardner says. And if you need to check on an older sibling? "Carry the baby with you."

Turn down the water heater. Make it 120 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Even that temperature can still burn your baby, "so always mix hot water with cold water before it touches your child's skin," Holtzman advises.

Be careful with hot drinks. "Moms carrying hot liquids while carrying the baby—that's a burn waiting to happen," Dr. Gardner says. Put down the baby, then retrieve your mug of reheated joe from the microwave.

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Watch where you place the car seat. Don't put it and baby down in a high spot, like on the kitchen counter or the washing machine. One enthusiastic kick from your little gal can send car seat and baby crashing to the floor, Dr. Gardner warns.

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