How to keep your baby safe on the beach, at the park, and in your own backyard
By Janene Mascarella
Baby Summer Safety Guide
There you two are at the park, coated in sunblock, fully hydrated, enjoying the clouds and the birds and the swings when a *%@! bee sticks his behind in your sweetie's chubby thigh and ruins it all. Double *%@! Use our guide to sidestep the season's safety traps, and find out what to do if any bees (or jellyfish or sand throwers) try to cross your path
Sneaky beach bummers
sand It's so soft and squishy, but it can sizzle little feet as well as irritate the mouth and eyes when it (inevitably) becomes airborne.
play it safe Keep your baby's sandals or water shoes on, especially on extra-hot days. When you get to your spot, plop him down facing you so you can keep an eye out for taste-testing, throwing, or blowing sand. If the grit gets in his mouth, do what you can to rinse it (you may have to wipe it out). For sand in his eyes, try to flush them with fresh water -- he'll scream, but getting even a little in will help. If he's still rubbing after an hour, seek medical attention to be sure there are no scratches or particles left under the eyelid, says Andrea McCoy, M.D., director of outpatient pediatrics at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
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rip currents These powerful channels of water that flow away from shore can occur at any beach with breaking waves -- the Great Lakes included. Some are so strong you can even lose your footing in knee-deep water, says B.J. Fisher, health and safety director for the American Lifeguard Association in Vienna, Virginia.
play it safe Head into the water near a lifeguard tower, and check the current conditions before you go in (either ask the guard or look for posted signs). Hold your little dipper's hand as he gets his feet wet; and if you go for a double dip, stay close to shore. If you feel yourself getting pulled out, try not to panic (this is very important!). Swim parallel to the beach until you break free -- it won't be far; most rips are quite narrow.
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jellyfish These ocean ouchies are frequent problems for swimmers. And you don't even have to be in the water to encounter one -- you can actually get stung on the beach. Some can be hard to spot because they're small and transparent, but other jellyfish can be a beautiful blue that might attract a child to go up and touch it. The big guys (man-of-wars) might even look like soccer balls underwater.
play it safe Avoid, avoid, avoid -- obviously. But should you or your baby fall within a tentacled grip, head straight to the lifeguard station for aid. They'll have supplies that can help minimize the pain.
shells They sure are fun to hunt, but jagged ones can cause big-time boo-boos, and small ones can be easy-to-overlook choking hazards.
play it safe Shoes go far here as well, but, let's face it, some kids just love going barefoot. If yours gets a cut, just head to the bathroom to wash it out with soap and water, then ask the lifeguard for a bandage. If the bleeding doesn't stop after applying ten minutes of pressure, head to the ER. Otherwise, apply an over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment when you get home, and call your doctor if any signs of infection (redness and swelling) develop.
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hidden park hazards
jungle gyms No playground worth your tot's time is without a slide, a few baby swings, and something to climb on. Yet aging equipment, hot metal, or older (rowdier) kids can put a quick damper on your day.
play it safe When you arrive, give the area a once-over. If the slides are metal, make sure they're not too hot from baking in the sun, and look out for any open "S" hooks or bolt ends that can scrape or catch clothing. As for those pushy big kids, expect small collisions now and then -- it's all part of the adventure. More worrisome is when your explorer falls from a height higher than her own. If she hits her head, look for bleeding, vomiting, or a sudden onset of sleepiness; if you've got a feeling she's just not acting right, call the doctor. Bone fractures aren't always easy to identify right away, so watch for an inability to move her arm or leg, swelling, or crying that won't stop, says Denise Dowd, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. Any concerns -- get her checked out.
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poison ivy Even if you've never had it, you know you don't want it. Poison ivy causes insanely itchy blisters usually arranged in a linear pattern, and it can grow pretty much anywhere -- playgrounds, your backyard, even urban areas.
play it safe Your best line of defense -- know thy enemy. "The old adage is leaves of three, leave them be," explains Bruce Brod, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. It's exactly right. "The plant has clusters of three oval leaves that can have smooth or jagged edges," says Dr. Brod. Should you spot your peanut going for a roll in the stuff, you might have luck avoiding a reaction if you act fast (within ten minutes). Remove his clothes and wash him down with soap and water. More likely, you won't even know he had a run-in, and you'll just see the rash, which typically develops within a week. In that case, you can apply an anti-itch cream for a mild case; a more severe reaction may require a trip to the M.D.
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spiders Spiders love hanging around jungle gyms (well, most of the outdoors), and some do bite, says Joshua Fox, M.D., a dermatologist in Commack, New York.
play it safe There's not much you can do to avoid them (hey, it's their park, too!), and most spiders aren't harmful. If one chomps on your kid (you'll know because it will hurt a bit) you'll likely see a local reaction: redness, itching, and swelling. Head to the bathroom and wash the area with soap and water. When you get home, apply a warm compress for a few minutes, then dab on hydrocortisone cream, and cover with a bandage to prevent itching and infection. Oh, and it's never a bad idea to shake out clothing or blankets before you leave in case any creepy crawlies try to hitch a ride. (One note: If you notice a red bump but didn't see a spider bite happen, watch it carefully and check for fever. It could actually be an early skin infection.)
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baby pools There's nothing like splish-splashing all day long in your own personal blow-up pool, but even the cutest can turn gross if left too long. After one afternoon's dip, it can become a bacteria hotbed, increasing the risk of urinary, skin, and gastrointestinal infections, says José Villarin, M.D., associate chairman of pediatrics at New York Hospital Queens. And, of course, even a small amount of water can be a potential drowning risk to babies.
play it safe Close supervision -- meaning, close enough to touch -- at any size pool is key. And make it a rule: No drinking the water! Sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many tots consider that plastic tub the ultimate tea party. Those swimmy diapers do a good job at containing waste, but hold off if she's got diarrhea. At day's end, empty the pool and turn it over. Fill and repeat!
bees Think about it: Why wouldn't these buggers zoom right for the sweetest thing around? Babies usually wear jazzy, bright-colored clothes, and they're often coated in some degree of snack-laden dribble. Those two factors alone can create a buzz all over bug land: A Teddy Graham hath fallen -- come one, come all!
play it safe No need to go goth with your little one's wardrobe; promptly wiping her hands and face and cleaning up any spills will suffice. If she does get stung, flick out the stinger with a credit card or something similar like a library card, suggests Dr. McCoy. You can also apply products like Benadryl cream. Getting stung is usually a short-lived problem, unless she's allergic. Serious reactions to look for: breathing problems, wheezing, and severe hives. Any of these warrants a call to 911.
sandboxes You can squeeze hours of fun out of sandboxes -- if you take a couple of precautions.
play it safe Yeah, you let him crawl around in the sand at the beach that's full of who knows what, but at home, it's worth buying sand specially prepared for play. This way you can be sure that it's free of bacteria, fungus, insects, glass, and metals that could injure your baby. You can find it at most toy, hardware, and gardening stores or at SafeSand.com. You'll also want to keep the sandbox covered to prevent animals, bugs, and water from getting in-all of which can turn it into a bacteria breeding ground. The main thing: If an animal has left a buried treasure or should your baby have an accident, it's best to dump the whole box and replace the sand.
mosquitoes These pesky, disease-carrying guests are often on the scene when you're chilling outside, especially near water or when the sun's going down. And you don't want what they're bringing to the party.
play it safe To protect against mosquitoes and other insects (like ticks), apply a repellent that contains no more than 10 percent DEET to babies older than 2 months, steering clear of their hands, mouth, and eyes. (For younger babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using protective clothing only, like long socks, sleeves, pants, closed-toe shoes, and hats.) "It's also best to avoid using the combination sunscreen/insect repellents," says Dr. McCoy. "You can reapply the sunscreen as needed, but there's usually no need to reapply the bug spray." Put on the spray first, then sunscreen. If you'd rather forgo the repellent altogether, you can consider using a carbon-dioxide machine for your backyard, pricey though they are. They attract mosquitoes by mimicking breath and can take a big bite out of your skeeter population (check out MosquitoMagnet.com for more information). Forget about those old-school zappers, though. They can blow bug parts -and their diseases-all over your yard and your burger. Eeeeewwww!