Arched-back babies in plastic seats, toddlers who are mini Houdinis in their strollers, and 2-year-olds who climb into danger from their cribs make child care ever more nerve-racking.
To reduce safety risks, use baby gear according to the directions, be selective about hand-me-downs and pay attention to recalls. Don't be scared; just be aware. For example, do you have an outdated car seat or a vintage crib with drop-down sides? They're unsafe.
When choosing baby gear, pay special attention to:
. Strollers. Consumers face recurring safety incidents with strollers. One involves the opening between the grab bar or tray and the seat bottom, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.
In some older strollers, the opening between the grab bar or tray and the seat bottom is less than 8 inches. This can be a big hazard for babies up to 1 year old. When a baby is improperly harnessed, his body can slide down through the opening, but his head and neck can get trapped.
Many companies have recalled older strollers because of this risk. Some manufacturers offer a free repair kit or a replacement piece that prevents a child from slipping through the opening. For a list of companies supplying this fix for their recalled strollers, go to www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/category/safety-blogs/childrens-products.
. Cribs. The federal government has strengthened rules about crib construction. They are required to have stronger slats, sturdier hardware, tougher testing and no more drop sides that create a gap between the crib and the mattress. Make sure there are no gaps larger than two fingers between the sides of the crib and the mattress.
Proper assembly of cribs is crucial, says the CPSC, which has recalled millions of cribs. Follow the instructions provided and make sure that every part is installed correctly. If you're not sure, call the manufacturer.
Do not use cribs older than 10 years or broken or modified cribs. Infants can strangle if their bodies pass through gaps between loose components or broken slats while their heads remain entrapped. Check here to see if your crib has been recalled: www.cpsc.gov/cgi-bin/cribs.aspx.
. Play yards. Set up play yards, formerly called playpens, according to manufacturers' directions. Use only the mattress pad provided with the play yard; do not add extra padding. More than 2,100 play-yard incidents, including 60 deaths and 170 injuries, were reported to the CPSC between November 2007 and December 2011.
. Baby seats: More than 4 million neon-colored Bumbo baby seats sold between August 2003 and August 2012 have been recalled, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 75 babies have fallen and suffered head injuries after leaning, rocking or arching their backs while in the seats.
Stop using the baby seat, Bumbo International says, until you have ordered and installed a restraint belt available at this website: www.recall.bumbousa.com. You'll also get a sticker that warns: Do not use the seat on an elevated surface.
Other safety tips regarding baby gear:
. If you have a video or audio baby monitor, be sure the cords are away from your child's crib. That also goes for cords on blinds and shades, which can be a strangling hazard.
. Register new products with the manufacturer.
. Don't buy car seats at yard sales. You never know their history - they could have been in a car crash and no longer be effective. Also, with a new one you get the necessary instructions about proper installation.
. The CPSC has an app to check for recalls before buying a secondhand product.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at email@example.com or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.