Stairs and young babies really don’t mix. The mathematical equation looks something like: Gravity + tiny little undeveloped muscles + no inhibitions = danger.
Yep, it’s not rocket science!
But knowing the best ways to baby-proof your staircase and help your toddlers use it safely? Well, that’s a tad more complicated.
Not to worry, though – we’ve covered everything you need to know right here. You’ll learn about the different types of safety gates and other great tips for preventing stair-related accidents.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
The Dangers Stairs Pose To Babies
Stairs pose a hazard for any young child, whether they’re crawling or just learning to walk.
But you don’t have to have an adventurous, risk-taking youngster for accidents to happen. Have a quick look through any parenting forum and you’ll see that falls can happen to any child, in the blink of a second.
So, how common are they?
According to Web MD, A study performed in the US between 1999 to 2008 found that approximately 931,886 children under the age of five were treated for stair-related injuries in emergency rooms.
The extent of the injuries varied – many left just bruises and soft-tissue injuries, while more serious cases involved injuries to the head and neck. Approximately 3% needed to be hospitalised for treatment.
If your child does have an accident, here’s a great article by The Nemours Foundation that explains what to do and when to seek medical attention. Definitely worth a read.
How Do Accidents Happen?
According to that same study between 1999 to 2008, there’s a few common scenarios:
1) Falling While Unsupervised
Most of the incidents involved a child falling down the stairs on their own.
This is why supervision is so important.
But don’t judge. It’s not always a case of inattentive parenting.
Accidents like this can happen quicker than you realise – you turn away for a second and next thing you know, your baby is halfway up the staircase. Which is ironic, because they seem to take forever to get moving when you’re late for an appointment!
2) Being Carried
Sometimes accidents even happen with parents present.
In fact, researchers found that 25% of the children under one year of age were injured while being carried on the stairs.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can babyproof against. Really, you just need to ensure you take the stairs slow, and hold your baby in a protective, secure manner.
3) Using Walkers
16% of the injuries involved a child falling down the stairs while using a baby walker.
In fact, instances like this were deemed so common, baby walkers have been banned in Canada since 2004.
But if you live in a country where baby walkers are still used, it’s best not to use them anywhere near stairs, for obvious safety reasons.
4) Inside Prams Or Carriages
Stair-related falls can also happen while the child is inside a stroller or carriage. In fact, about 10,000 injuries of this nature were recorded in the study.
It’s probably not so relevant around the home, but if you’re out and about with your child in a pram or carriage, it’s best to avoid stairs. For example, if you’re at a train station or in a car park, try to find an elevator or alternative route.
If you’re forced to use stairs, you might find its safer to take your child out and carry them.
So, What’s The Solution? How Can I Baby Proof My Stairs?
Got stairs? Got a baby that can access them? You need safety gates.
It’s really not a question, of “Do I need them?” but a question of “Which one do I need?”.
What Types Of Safety Gates Are There?
There’s two main types:
1) Hardware-Mounted Safety Gates
This type of safety gate is the most highly recommended, especially for high-risk areas like the top of stairs.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, safety gates like this offer the greatest protection because they are screwed into the wall or frame, making them strong and durable.
They suggest avoiding pressure gates that can be easily pushed out of place.
Yes, you will need to drill holes, but if you’re renting or don’t want to permanently alter in the walls or banister, there’s other options – for example, you can get mounting kits.
- Ideal for top and bottom of stairs.
- Needs to be installed using tools, as they’re screwed in.
- Must be installed according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Check out the video below for more tips on installing your hardware-mounted safety gate.
2) Pressure-Mounted Safety Gates
These safety gates are designed to wedge inside doorways. With the gate firmly pushed up against each side of the staircase opening, the pressure keeps the structure firmly in place.
Important – this type of gate should not be used at the top of stairs.
Why? It’s easier for a child to dislodge or push over a pressure-mounted gate, than a hardware-mounted one.
They’re usually designed to accommodate different size openings. So when installing, you simply extend the rail as far as needed for your particular staircase, and then lock it in place.
Because they aren’t a permanent fixture, they can be moved as needed. For example, if you’re visiting relatives or going on vacation, you can easily take it with you.
- Usually recommended only for the bottom of stairs.
- Don’t require drilling for installation as they don’t screw into walls.
- Aren’t typically considered as safe as hardware-mounted ones.
Check out the video below to learn more about installing pressure-mounted safety gates.
Tips For Installing And Using Safety Gates For Baby Proofing Purposes
- Never use a pressure-mounted gate at the top of stairs.
- Ensure the gate swings away from the stairs – this is to prevent your child falling down the stairs if they are leaning on the gate when you open it.
- Avoid old-fashioned accordion-style gates with the V-shape at the top, as this design is not the safest.
- Always follow the installation instructions and give the gate a good shake and shove when you’re done – you want to ensure its strong and secure.
- Make sure the safety gate you plan to use hasn’t been recalled – for example, if you’re in America you might want to check the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Remind older siblings and visitors to shut the safety gate behind them.
How Soon Will You Need Your Gates In Place?
Baby Center recommends installing gates by the time your baby is about six months old.
But if you have a super-genius baby who is showing signs of crawling earlier, go off that. Essentially, you just need them in place before baby is mobile.
And remember – even babies that have only just learned to crawl can make it to the staircase. Don’t be deceived into thinking your infant couldn’t possibly have the stamina to move that far, that quickly.
When their curious little minds take over, it’ll surprise you how fast they can move.
What If You Can’t Get The Safety Gate To Fit?
Some stairways have unique banister designs that might not be suitable for mounting a safety gate.
Some parents get around this by using mounting kits or making simple modifications.
For example, in the video below, one woman uses zip ties to secure a piece of wood to the bottom of her stairs – this then allowed her to properly fit the safety gate.
Tried absolutely everything and just can’t get the safety gate to fit the stairs?
There are some very unique staircase designs out there, and sure, some of them might not have the capacity to hold a gate.
In these instances, some parents get around it by putting safety gates up in other doorway openings around the house or by using playpens.
The idea is to limit your child’s movement.
For example, if they sleep upstairs, put one in their bedroom doorway. If they spend a lot of time playing in the lounge area, put one there, too.
It’s important to keep them safely away from the stairs as best as you can.
Remember – Safety Gates Are Only Temporary
According to Consumer Reports, safety gates are only suitable for children between about six months and two years of age.
Basically, once a kid is old enough to open a gate or climb over it, the device is no longer viable as a safety measure. Makes sense, really.
This is why it’s so important to start teaching your toddler how to use the stairs and ensure they have lots of supervised practice.
How To Teach Toddlers To Use The Stairs
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests teaching your kids how to climb the stairs safely once they turn about 18 months old.
According to their tips, you should initially show them how to crawl down the stairs backwards, on their stomach, hands and knees. When they can walk, teach them to hold the handrail and do it one step at a time.
Tips For Keeping Toddlers Safe While They Learn
- Supervise them. This is so important.
- Check for loose carpeting that could cause your little one to trip.
- Keep the stairs free of clutter – your little one doesn’t need any extra hurdles when practising climbing or walking.
- If the stairs are made of wood, make sure they’re not too slippery for your toddler.
- Ensure the stairs have a proper handrail in place.
- Keep an eye on the cuff of your child’s pants when they’re practicing climbing or walking the stairs – you don’t want anything getting in the way of their little feet.
- Teach your children about the need to be careful around stairs. Once they’re old enough, explain what could happen if they fall.
Our Product Recommendations For Baby Proofing Stairs Around The House
Noticed your baby starting to rock back and forth on her knees, and realized she’s getting close to crawling? It’s time to safeguard your stairs and get a safety gate set up!
Don’t worry, we’ve made it super easy with some recommendations.
Whether you need a pressure-mounted gate or a hardware-mounted gate, we’ve got a few suggestions below – even if you don’t find what you’re looking for here, it should at least give you an idea of the types of things to consider.
*Note: Upon clicking on any of the links in the section below, you will be redirected to the respective product listings on Amazon where you can learn about the product’s price, customer rating & customer reviews.
Category #1: Hardware-Mounted Safety Gates
Our Favorite Product: Easy Swing and Lock Gate by North States
We love it because it’s so easy to use, with a one-hand operation and self-locking mechanism – this is an advantage and makes a huge difference if you’re carrying a baby down the stairs.
It’s made of steel and comes in an attractive matte bronze color.
Most importantly, it screws into place, offering maximum durability. With this gate installed, you can have greater peace of mind when your little ones are toddling around upstairs.
Fits openings 28 to 48 inches wide, and is 31 inches tall.
- You can open it with just one hand.
- Swings shut and locks on its own.
- There is no bar that you need to step over.
- As is the case with all hardware installations, you’ll need to do some drilling to set it up – however, this is the safest option for any top-of-stairs gate.
- Swings in one direction only (which is a great safety feature for the top of stairs) but if you’re using the gate simply between rooms, it might get annoying.
Category #2: Pressure-Mounted Safety Gates
Our Favorite Product: Easy Step Extra Wide Baby Gate by Regalo
If it’s a bottom-of-stairs gate you need, or a barrier between rooms, this gate is one we highly recommend.
Because it’s pressure-mounted, you can easily set it up, or take it down, as and whenever needed.
It’s also quite portable, so if you take the kids to grandma’s house or on vacation, the gate can be installed without damaging the walls.
Fits 29 to 39-inch stairways or doorways. It stands at 31 inches tall.
- Easy pressure-mounted installation – no tools or drilling required.
- Comes with a 6-inch wide extension kit for wider openings.
- Gate can be left open if needed (obviously not ideal if baby is around – but for example, if your little one is at daycare, this function is convenient).
- Has a bottom bar that can take getting used to when walking through (as you need to step over it).
- Only opens in one direction.
Category #3: Safety Gates That Can Be Hardware-Mounted Or Pressure-Mounted
Our Favorite Product: Multi-Use Deco Extra Tall Walk-Thru Gate by Summer Infant
This gate is amazingly versatile – whether you choose to set it up pressure-mounted or hardware-mounted, we think you’ll be pretty pleased with the result either way.
One of the great things about it is its height. It’s without doubt a few inches taller than most standard safety gates, which can provide extra peace of mind.
Fits stairways from approximately 28 inches to 45 inches wide.
- Can be pressure-mounted or hardware-mounted.
- Ideal for top of stairs, bottom of stairs or even between rooms.
- It’s 36 inches tall – perfect for toddlers that are adept at climbing.
- Swings close automatically.
- Only available in beige or bronze.
- May be a little tricky to install when using the gate extensions (which are included in the pack).
Category #4: Play Yards / Room Dividers
Our Favorite Product: Super Wide Adjustable Baby Gate and Play Yard by Regalo
We love this because it provides the ultimate solution for people who can’t get a standard baby gate to fit their staircase.
With 8 configurable panels, it can either be:
- Installed near the staircase as an extra-large barrier, cutting off access to little ones.
- Set up as a play yard, so young children can play safe and sound inside.
They’re both great options and effective ways to enforce stair safety in the home.
Just like a standard baby gate, this product has a walk-through gate with an easy-to-use childproof latch. It means adults can move easily up and down the stairs as needed.
- As the name suggests, it really is super wide – reaches up to 192 inches wide.
- The 8 panels can be maneuvered into different configurations to suit whatever shape and length you need.
- If you’re using it as a gate, it can be wall-mounted for extra security.
- Easy to take down and folds up so you can move it around the house if you wish.
- Only available in the color white.
- If you use it as a gate, you’ll need to use a screwdriver or drill to mount it on the wall.
Category #5: Safety Gate Mounting Kits
Our Favorite Product: No Hole Stairway Baby Gate Mounting Kit by Safety Innovations
When it comes to mounting kits for safety gates, this is our pick of the bunch.
By clamping the mounting kit onto the banister and screwing your gate to that, you can avoid damaging the staircase with any screw holes.
Ideal for round and square posts.
- Designed so you don’t have to drill holes into your banisters.
- Works with most safety gate types.
- Easy to install.
- Only fits posts that are at least 2 3/4 inches to 3 5/8 inches wide.
- Not for use with pressure-mounted gates. Hardware-mounted only.
Category #6: Wall Protectors for Pressure-Mounted Gates
Our Favorite Product: Baby Gate Wall Protectors by Wall Nanny
These wall protectors might seem simple, but they’re actually really effective at what they do: protecting your walls and banisters from scuffing and damage by safety gates.
You just slip the rubber-backed pad between the surface you want to protect and the spindle of the safety gate, and that’s it – no difficult installations required!
Added bonus: some people even find that they provide extra stability for the safety gate.
- Works on most pressure-mounted gates.
- Available in different colors.
- Sleek and compact design so it’s almost unnoticeable on your stairs.
- Not for use on a hardware-mounted safety gate. Pressure-mounted only.
- For the above reason, they can’t be used on gates at the top of stairs.
Wrapping It Up
So, there you go. There’s no need to fear the stairs anymore, because there’s proven ways to keep your little ones safe.
Although if you’re pregnant and having to haul yourself up and down them ten times a day, we understand if the staircase isn’t really your ‘happy place’ right now.
Got any tips for keeping your kids safe around stairs? Don’t be shy – share them in the comments below!