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Unsafe nursery design trends to avoid

The nursery pictures posted by online influencers may look beautiful, but they often show unsafe products and dangerous nursery environments. 

nursery showing several unsafe decorating and product trends
Last updated: 27 September 2019

Stylish nursery shots posed by so-called 'influencers' with huge social media followings can be a great source of inspiration when decorating for a new baby. But it's important to remember that these photos are often staged to prioritise style, not safety. Imitating some of these looks can lead to serious risks to your child's safety. 

According to the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU), in the five-year period between 2013 and 2018, an average of 708 children under five years old presented at Victorian emergency departments each year, injured by nursery furniture. 

Forty-one percent of these injuries happened in the first year of life. Falls are the most common cause of injury and more than 75% of injuries are to the face, head or neck.

Dr Ruth Barker, a paediatrician and director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit, says children's unpredictable actions and rapidly developing abilities can easily catch parents out. 

"It's important to create a space that is safe not only for their current abilities, but for the abilities they will develop over time," she says. "Parents need to anticipate and stay one jump ahead, because you don't want the first time they do something to be their last."

To help stop that nightmare coming true, here are some of the most dangerous nursery design trends to avoid.

unsafe nursery designs wall decorations above cot

Hazards: a dangerously heavy item hanging within arm's reach above the cot, decorative throw, soft toy. The top of the mattress may also be too close to the top of the cot (they should be at least 50cm apart). Credit: Pinterest

Around the cot

Wall decorations 

Whether it's a mirror, framed print, wall hanging or custom-name plate, the wall space directly above the cot is rarely left bare in nursery images. 

Yes, these items can make for a great photo, but it's best to hang them on a different wall, as they may fall or be pulled into the cot, injuring your child.  

Unsecured furniture

Freestanding furniture may complement your nursery aesthetic, but, according to VISU, furniture tip-overs sent more than 50 children under four to Victorian emergency rooms in 2015/16 . 

Any furniture in the nursery should be fixed or bracketed to the wall, especially if it's within arm's reach of the cot.

unsafe nursery designs cot next to windows

Hazards: cot near window/curtains, cot bumpers, decorative throw, heavy items hanging on the wall above the cot. Credit: Pottery Barn Kids

Cots next to windows

Positioning your cot under a window framed by stylish curtains may look appealing, but this location creates fall and strangulation risks.

"I've heard of 12-month-olds who have climbed up their cot and fallen over the cot rail head first," says Barker. "If your cot is next to a window, this can be catastrophic."

If parents do want to put the cot near a window, she advises, a window guard can make this a safer option.

Even more dangerous than the window itself are blinds or curtains – babies have died from being strangled by loose blind or curtain cords hanging near their cots.

On the cot

Canopies

One of the most popular nursery design trends this year is a canopy flowing over the corner of the cot to create what some parents see as a 'dreamy' fairytale look. 

But cot canopies are dangerous for babies and young children and the ACCC previously recalled them because of the risk of strangulation. 

Barker says parents should never hang any excess fabric on or over the cot. 

"I've treated a baby who used a mosquito net to pull up to stand, and ended up wrapping it around her neck," she says. 

"Luckily, her mother came into the room and found her dangling from the net before it was too late."

unsafe nursery designs canopies and fairy lights

Hazards: cot canopy, fairy lights, decorative throw, soft toys, wall hangings. Credit: Instagram/littlespacesco

Fairy lights

The soft glow that a string of fairy lights gives out can create a magical ambiance. But you should never hang them over the cot or lace them through the bars. 

According to Barker, the string is a strangulation risk and removable bulbs may be a choke hazard. She also advises parents to take particular care with any light or device in their child's nursery. 

"If it's battery powered, check that it doesn't use button batteries, which are particularly dangerous for children and ensure all batteries are securely fastened," she says. "If it's electric you need to consider the risk of electrocution if your child chews on the cord."

Garlands/bunting 

These may seem like a cheap and easy way to add a pop of colour to your child's cot. But their strings are a strangulation hazard.

Throws

Styled nursery photos often show a throw or blanket draped artistically over the cot. Remember, this is only to show off the fabric for the photo – if you're putting your child in the cot to sleep, in order to prevent suffocation, any blankets should be tucked in tightly around the foot end of the mattress to stop them riding up and covering the baby's face.

unsafe nursery designs throws in cot

Hazards: heavy plant and pictures hanging above the cot, throw, pillows, soft toy. The leaves of the floor plant are also within reach. Credit: Pinterest

In the cot

Pillows

They may look lovely propped in the corner of the cot, but, according to Red Nose, a charity aiming to eradicate sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, babies shouldn't sleep with a pillow until they're at least two years old. 

This is because pillows increase the risk of suffocation and overheating and, like soft toys, they can also serve as footholds that enable children to climb up and fall out of the cot. 

Barker says many parents are not aware that pillows can also cause something called positional asphyxiation. 

"Even when lying flat, babies' heads naturally tip forward due to the shape of their skull," she says. 

"If you put a pillow under their head, it can exaggerate the angle, tipping their chin onto their chest, which can cause a slow suffocation known as positional asphyxiation."

Soft toys/comfort items  

According to Red Nose's manager of health and advocacy and chief midwife Jane Wiggill, babies aged less than six months don't explore objects in their sleeping environment. They're also too young developmentally to take comfort from a toy or object to help them separate from their mother. 

The risk posed by suffocation by the presence of soft objects in the baby's sleeping environment outweighs any benefit in this age group

Jane Wiggill, Red Nose manager of health and advocacy

Wiggill advises parents and caregivers to keep soft toys out of the sleeping environments of babies aged less than seven months because they may cover the nose and mouth, which interferes with breathing. 

"The risk posed by suffocation by the presence of soft objects in the baby's sleeping environment outweighs any benefit in this age group," she says.

unsafe nursery designs cot bumpers

Hazards: cot canopy, fairy lights, cot bumper, toys, throw, mobile. Credit: Pinterest

Bumpers

They may make a cot look soft and safe, but bumpers can do more harm than good. A US study found that 27 children died over a 20-year period due to suffocation or strangulation related to cot bumpers. 

Wiggill warns that when babies roll for the first time, they aren't able to roll back the other way, creating a serious danger if the bedding is too soft and bumpers are in the cot. 

"Babies can become wedged against a cot bumper and they can overheat and suffocate because their face is pressed against the soft fabric," she says.

Sheepskins 

In nursery photos, people often use a fluffy white sheepskin to line wicker bassinets and Moses baskets. 

But while sheepskins were once promoted as beneficial to babies, they have since been linked directly to SIDS, particularly when babies are placed on them in a prone (face down or on stomach) sleep position.

unsafe nursery designs cot sleep pod

Hazards: sleep pod. Credit: topfivebaby.com.

Sleep pods

Sleep pods are another popular item for padding out bassinets and cots. Snuggly-looking, they're marketed as recreating womb-like comfort. 

But babies can suffocate if their face becomes pressed against a sleep pod or positioner. US agency CPSC has reported 12 deaths over 13 years related to sleep positioners.

Wiggill says parents should remember that these products have no safety standards and manufacturers and retailers are under no obligation to ensure the products they sell are safe.

"Sleep positioners really concern me," she says. "It's a soft sleep surface with an inbuilt bumper – it doesn't meet any of our criteria for safe sleep."

The cot or bassinet

Moses baskets 

These are made of a softer, more pliable type of wicker and are commonly used for newborn babies, but there's no Australian safety standard for Moses baskets (or bassinets in general) and CHOICE's experienced baby-product testers rarely recommend them.

"There are typically non-breathable zones on all sides, the handles can be a strangulation hazard and once your baby can roll or pull up, there's a fall risk, especially if the basket is placed unsecured on a stand," says CHOICE head of household testing Kim Gilmour.

unsafe nursery designs wicker bassinets

Hazards: wicker bassinet and stand, dangling light bulb, picture. Credit: Honestly Designed Interiors

Wicker bassinets 

Bassinets woven from natural plant materials such as rattan or cane are a favourite among online influencers, but they carry some risks, according to Gilmour.

"You'll need to look out for rough or jagged edges," she says. "While they can be strong, some types of wicker may be more pliable and could cause head, limb or finger entrapment in gaps in the weave." 

She says parents should also be aware that there's no Australian safety standard for bassinets. 

"If you have space, a regular cot is the safest option, but if you do want a bassinet, there are a few things to look out for," she says. "The most important is to ensure a firm, well-fitted mattress and breathable zones on all four sides."

How to decorate your nursery safely

There are plenty of don'ts when it comes to creating a safe nursery space. But there are still lots of ways you can decorate your nursery and keep it safe for baby: 

  • Invest in a beautiful cot that meets Australian safety standards.
  • Make a visual statement with patterned sheets and cot blankets (Red Nose recommends Sheridan Australia's safe bedding range).
  • Get creative by painting your nursery with non-toxic paint.
  • Use wall decals to add personal flair.
  • If you want the rustic look, use a wicker basket to store toys, rather than as a sleep space for your baby.

Source: Red Nose

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