Holiday Hazards: Keeping Baby Safe and Happy

From Christmas trees to menorah candles, keep your child out of harm's way.

holiday safety for babies and toddlers

tali ditye author mommyhood101  By: Tali Ditye, Ph.D., Co-founder
  Updated: April 28, 2023

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When the world is aglow with holiday lights and spirit, parents and children alike will buzz with excitement and wonder. The holiday season is a lovely time of year, full of tradition, festivities, and vibrant bustle. This time of year can also add stress and dangers to a baby’s routines. Some of the top holiday hazards include decorations, shopping dangers, and celebrations. At a bare minimum, make sure you set up one of the best baby gates and keep things out of reach!

Holiday Decorating Safety Tips

Hanging decorations: The house is adorned with holiday cheer. Garlands and baubles are everywhere! These decorations are lovely to look at, but many are fragile, and they can cause choking or laceration dangers to small children. When decorating, parents should hang ornaments out of baby’s reach, and when carrying baby near festooned walls, be sure the child is not reaching and grabbing ornaments.

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Candles: Candles should always be used with regard for fire safety and guidelines. During the holiday season, there are likely many more candles around the house. The National Fire Protection Association reports, “U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 840 home fires per year that began with decorations (excluding Christmas trees).” The top three days for candle fires in homes included Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Parents with young children should take extra precautions when lighting holiday candles.

  • Check candle holders for sturdiness, and place them out of reach from children and pets.
  • Ensure candles are not surrounded by potentially flammable garlands and/ or decorations.
  • Always keep lighters and matches out of children’s reach.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Don’t allow a small child to hold a burning candle (battery-operated candles for children are a good alternative for family traditions and ceremonies).

Toxic holiday plants: Live plants and foliage can add a picturesque charm to holiday décor. However, many favorite holiday plants can be harmful and even poisonous if consumed by children (and pets!). Some of these harmful plants include:

  • Holly: To prevent severe poisoning from holly, parents should remove the berries before decking the halls with these boughs. “Swallowing holly berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. Children have had symptoms after swallowing as few as two holly berries.”
  • Jerusalem cherry: This plant is also known as Winter Cherry or Christmas Cherry. Consumption of a few leaves or berries from this plan can cause gastrointestinal upset, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If consumed in larger amounts, serious symptoms can include drowsiness, hallucinations, and heart rate complications.
  • Mistletoe: There are different varieties of mistletoe including both American and European species. Studies have shown the European varieties to be more dangerous and even poisonous when consumed, while the ingestion of the leaves or berries of American mistletoe has lead to gastrointestinal issues.
  • Poinsettias: Harmful to humans if large quantities of the leaves are consumed. May cause diarrhea and vomiting.

If a parent suspects their child may have ingested any amount of holiday plant, they should call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 right away. Do not wait to see if the child gets sick.

Toddler-proof trees: Many families celebrate the holidays with a decorated tree. This is a wonderful opportunity to share (and make!) traditions with babies and toddlers. However, holiday trees also present numerous safety hazards for little ones.

  • Stability: Trees should fit snugly in their stands. Parents should review tree height limitations, and trim branches to ensure a sturdy profile. Artificial trees should be checked for any structural damage from storage.
  • Accessibility: Parents can consider placing the tree in a room protected by a baby gate. If this is not possible, surrounding the tree with a play yard can also reduce baby’s access to the tree.
  • Dropping needles: Live trees will—undoubtedly—drop needles. Tree needles are sharp and can cause irritation and cuts in baby’s mouth and throat. Parents should regularly sweep and vacuum around the tree.
  • Water: In addition to decorations and fallen needles, a live tree’s water can be hazardous if a baby tries to drink it. This is especially true if parents add bleach or other solutions in an effort to prolong tree life. Parents can explore tree stands with a deep water reservoir to reduce toddler access.
  • Holiday home fires: U. S. fire departments respond to an average of 200 Christmas tree home fires per year. “Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in two of every five (40%) of home Christmas tree fires.” Parents should take serious precautions to ensure trees do not become too dry and heat sources are not kept too close to trees. Power outlets and strips should be managed safely and not overloaded. Additionally, the holidays are a great time of year to inspect hoe smoke detectors for efficiency.

Strategies to Keep Kids Safe While Holiday Shopping

Best time to shop with baby: If holiday shopping with baby in tow, parents should consider heading out earlier in the day. The roads will be clearer during office hours, temperatures will be higher, and visibility will be better.

Car seat safety check: Before setting out into busy, holiday traffic, double-check car seat alignment with child’s height and weight, and ensure proper installation. Safe Kids Worldwide offers parents a quick car seat checklist to support car seat inspections.

Carriage seatbelts: A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 20,000 children under five years old were treated for shopping cart related injuries in one year.  For safety, children should be properly buckled into shopping carts. Additionally, infant carriers should not be placed onto the cart seat as this negatively impacts the cart’s balance and can result in tipping. In a sea of bustling holiday shoppers, it is best to err on the side of caution and safety.

Displays: Holiday shopping displays are fun and inviting, which creates a dangerous situation for a curious toddler. Children should not be allowed to touch or play with mannequins or displays. Stability is always a concern, and a product avalanche could result in serious injury.

Holiday Party & Gift Safety

Age appropriate gifts:  Parents of a new baby may find their little one showered with both love and gifts at holiday parties. As lovely and thoughtful as this may be, friends and family (especially those without children) might forget to check age specifications. Additionally, parents should watch out for loose batteries and choking hazards in packing materials as gifts are unwrapped.   

Kitchen safety: Child-proofing in the kitchen is always a necessity. However, during the holidays—with their feasts and frenzy—parents will do best to make frequent inspections in the kitchen to ensure pot handles are turned in and knives, glass, and hot foods are kept out of reach.

Hors d’oeuvres: Holiday gatherings may include side tables full of snacks and hors d’oeuvres. These small appetizers may be allergy or choking hazards to small children. Parents should ensure their kids are not left unattended near snack bowls, especially those containing small treats like popcorn, nuts, or small candies.  Consider bringing a sturdy, decorative plate with child-safe snacks to make toddlers feel included in the festivities. 

Alcohol: In addition to keeping kids away from the alcohol bar/table at a party, parents should also be watchful for unattended glasses, bottles, and cans. These open drinks pose an immediate threat to curious babies and toddlers.

While celebrations come with their own special hazards, a little extra caution will ensure parents and their babies have a safe and happy holiday season.

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