Parents of new babies encounter a multitude of logistical barriers during Christmas. There’s navigating holiday travel with new baggage, maintaining cheer while sleep deprived, and keeping up with old traditions. And all of this while keeping a baby healthy and happy. The last thing new parents need is a trip to the ER when the new kid finds themselves getting into some dangerous holiday mischief by crawling on a Christmas ornament or stuffing a tiny toy battery in their nose.
In order to navigate some extreme holiday baby-dangers, Dr. Opher Nadler, medical director at Randall Children’s Center Emergency Department in Portland, Oregon suggests looking beyond the expected and obvious. Here are eight lesser-known dangers to consider.
The Christmas Tree and Glass Ornaments
The tree really shouldn’t cause much worry. Particularly if it’s well-anchored and out of reach. Even if it gets pulled down, the branches will break the tree’s fall and prevent serious injury. It’s the ornaments that can be an issue, especially the glass ones. They look like candy and they’re super brittle. When a kid takes interest in a shiny bulb and sends it crashing to the ground, the outcome is likely lacerations or mouthful of broken glass.
The best preventative measure? Place breakable decorations higher, or skip them altogether. “Use the nice soft wooden options for ornaments and save the glass for when they’re a little older,” explains Nadler.
Toys for Older Kids
Liability issues force toy companies to take great care to label which toys are appropriate for what ages. Regardless, adults tend to think their children are way smarter than the lawsuit-averse corporate lawyers give them credit for, and often gift little ones toys that are designed for much older children.
This result is often small parts going disappearing into noses, creating a choking hazard. All gift givers should respect toy age guidelines. And if there are older siblings involved, make sure their toys don’t fall into smaller hands.
“Siblings will get toys that are appropriate for them, but the 2-year-old is right next to them and gets to play with stuff on the floor,” says Nadler. “Parents need to be mindful of toys that older kids got.”
“Disc batteries can get lodged in your esophagus and cause holes,” says Nadler. It seems like a simple task to just keep batteries away from children. But many battery-operated baby toys and gizmos come with batteries taped in the package — and packages are often much more exciting to babies than their contents. It’s easy for parents to overlook hidden batteries as packages litter the household. If the batteries are in the package, get them immediately off the floor.
“Grandparents who are visiting for the holidays inevitably, if they’re like my mom, spread their medications far and wide around the entire house, and they end up in children’s mouths,” says Nadler. To a baby, a display of colorful pills laid out in a familiar guest room looks like a buffet, especially during a time of year where every other thing on the counter is a treat. It only takes one pill — blood pressure medication, a pill to lower blood sugar — to put a child in the hospital. Parents should ensure that all medications are placed out of reach and in securely locked bottles.
The good news? Dr. Nadler has never attended to a strangulation that resulted from lights, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. That said, he’s seen his fair share of other light-related mishaps. “I have seen kids eating the light bulbs that came off the strings. Especially the colorful ones,” he says. Again, keep the tree blocked off and lights far out of reach.
The law of cartoon physics dictates that most dangling strings are attached to precariously balanced anvils. In the case of stockings, the thing anchoring them to the hearth is the anvil.
“The stocking is close to the ground and very appealing, and they yank on that and then the very heavy metal that sits on the fireplace mantle hits them on the head,” says Dr. Nadler. That could result in contusions, concussions, and lacerations. Go the old-school nail route to truly hang the stockings with care.
“Fireplaces and stoves take a centerpiece during the holiday season,” says Dr. Nadler. In many households during the holidays, the stove burners tend to be on 24/7 and the fireplace gets its annual marathon workout. That’s why it’s extra important to keep small hands well away from high heat. Parents should block the kitchen off as much they can, and ensure there’s a barrier between the front of the fireplace curious babies. In addition, make sure that the chimney is cleared of creosote, lest the house fill with smoke. Never leave a child unattended while chestnuts are roasting on the open fire.
Poinsettias, Holly, and Other Delicious-looking Plants
The good news? Eating poinsettias and holly seeds isn’t going to kill a kid. “They’re probably more dangerous for pets, but they can cause diarrhea if kids are motivated and eat a bunch of poinsettias,” says Dr. Nadler. But that brings up an even bigger point, one that’s hammered into parents’ brains over and over again: Keep the poison control hotline number handy, and call it immediately when there is any doubt. That includes flowers, seeds, dyed wrapping paper that could contain toxins, grandma’s multivitamin, wax, or anything else you might not be sure about. In fact, Dr. Nadler says, that most ER doctors’ first action when encountering an ingestion-related panic is to call the hotline themselves.