Smart Shopping: Baby Gates
Gates that fit in doorways or span other openings are often used to keep curious, exploring babies and toddlers -- generally ages 6 to 24 months -- out of harm's way. They can keep baby out from under foot, for example, or block hazards such as a stairway or a hot stove. But gates can be pushed down or dislodged, and should be considered only a supplemental safety measure. They are no substitute for supervising your child.
Gates should be solidly constructed, have reliable hardware, and be free of entrapment hazards.
Construction. The gate should be made of sturdy, smooth materials with rounded rather than sharply squared edges. Check to see that all surfaces are splinter-free. Vertical slats or bars should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. Gates should not have openings or protrusions on the top edge that could snag clothing or catch on necklaces or other jewelry.
Height.To reduce the likelihood of an adventurous child climbing over, the gate must be at least three-quarters of the child's height. Most gates stand at least 22 inches from the floor. When a child is taller than 30 inches or older than 2 years, gates are typically no longer appropriate.
Latches. There are several types of latches. Many require two actions to release, so only an adult can open the latch. Other gates have a squeezing mechanism that opens by compressing parts of the gate. Some people find this kind of latch uncomfortable to use, however, so test it in the store. Other options include a pressure-release handle or one that lifts up. Some models use a foot pedal to open the gate. A battery-operated model with a remote, wall-mounted switch was introduced 2 years ago, but it may no longer be available.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Key differences. Hardware-mounted gates are safer than pressure-mounted ones, but no gate can be guaranteed to keep a child in or out. Metal gates are usually more rigid than wood. However, some metal models have a stability bar that crosses the floor beneath the gate and could pose a tripping hazard.
Recommendations. For blocking stairways, choose a hardware-mounted gate that can be installed to only swing away from the steps. Pressure-mounted gates are suitable for separating rooms on the same level.
Gates should have a smooth, flat top and hardware with no sharp edges or points. If you choose a model with mesh panels, look for a fine weave. Wide-holed mesh can provide a foothold for climbing or can entrap hands, arms, or legs. Even fingers, teeth, or small buttons can get caught if the mesh openings are too large. Gates with vertical bars are best for preventing babies from climbing over the top.
Measure the width of the doorway or opening you want to gate, and take the measurements with you when you shop. After you make your choice, follow mounting instructions carefully. Frequently check hardware that attaches to the gate and wall. Loose hardware not only makes a gate less effective but also can pose a choking hazard. Keep large toys, such as stuffed animals or riding toys, away from the gate so they can't be used as step stools.
Gates to avoid. Accordion-style wood gates that open to form diamond-shaped spaces with wide V's at the top pose an entrapment hazard. Such gates have not been manufactured for years, but you may still see one at a garage sale. If you have this type of gate, replace it with a new model. Gate alternatives. You might consider installing an actual door, screen door, or half-door with a latch out of your child's reach and a strong self-closing mechanism. As a safeguard for small fingers, look for a pneumatic or hydraulic closer that comes with a pressure adjustment to prevent slamming.