Can baby gates be unsafe?

Baby safety gate injury rates have risen almost 4 times over the last 20 years. 

If you are a parent with a kiddo under 2 years old, it’s a safe bet you have a baby gate installed in your home.   

Baby gates are one of the top baby proofing items used because they are great at blocking (and corralling) a child’s access to unsafe parts of the house: a stairwell, fireplace, hallway or the wine cellar… well, one can wish!

If you have stairs and you don’t like your toddler served over easy, the utility of these gates is undeniable.  Safety gates are recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics and any reputable safety organization.

But the ironic truth is that baby gates can lead to injury if used or installed incorrectly.   

An article published in the journal Academic Pediatrics found that the gate injury rate of children aged 6 years and younger had increased nearly 4x from 1991 – 2010.

Say what?!?

This was so alarming that I reached out to the author of the research, Dr. Lara McKenzie, from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy.  Her study is considered to be the first and only research of its kind.

Dr. McKenzie also happens to be a mother of triplets so this makes her a black belt, ninja level baby safety guru from both a professional AND personal level. I was very lucky to get time to chat with her.

Here’s a recap of my talk with Dr. McKenzie and some data from her research:

  • 1,800 children are treated in ERs for gate-related injuries annually
  • Majority of baby gate injuries are seen in children < 2 years old
  • Falls account for 70% of gate injuries for children < 2 years old

The good news in Downersville? Dr. McKenzie notes that while the gate injury rate has increased over the last 2 decades, it would also suggest that more safety gates are being used in the home, which is great news because it’s preventing far more falls down the stairs.

She also cautions that proper gate usage education still seems to be lacking for many parents. Through her research she saw that, “the wrong types of gates were being used in a particular space, for instance, pressure mounted gates were being used at the top of a set of stairs instead of a mounted gate at the top of stairs.” 

Why is that really important?

The #1 injury for children under 2 were from falls down the stairs after the collapse of the gate or when the gate was left open. Injuries caused by these accidents include sprains, strains, and sometimes traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Shudder.

Pressure mounted gates placed at the top of stairs just aren’t stable and sturdy enough making hardware mounted gates the only option when installing gates at the top of stairs.

For kids aged two to six years, the most common injuries from gates are due to kids climbing up over the gates, which causes bumps, bruises, and cuts and these injuries led to the highest rate of hospitalization. 

Dr. McKenzie acknowledges that perfect gate installation can be difficult due to all the variations of unique home set-ups because, “everybody’s walls are different,” and coupled with unique moldings, banisters, and materials, it is impossible to recommend one baby gate to work in all homes.

She was frustrated by her own baby gate experience when trying to proof her older home with iron railings on the staircase. After looking into many options to keep her triplets safe, she ended up having to do a workaround and completely block stair access from the lower level of her home.

Let's put this in context, Dr. McKenzie is a full-fledged safety guru and she STILL had difficulty installing a baby gate so if you are frustrated, you aren't alone!

Even with her own challenging home set-up, using baby gates have been an important tool to create a safe environment for her family.  She recommends using gates to block access to stairs but also gates are helpful to block off unsafe areas of the home via use in hallways and doorways.

Here are Dr. McKenzie’s top safety tips for baby safety gates:

1)    Install baby gates at the top and bottom of stairways

2)    Install gates before the child turns 6 months old or before they start pulling up – once they start pulling up, it’s too late

3)    Only use hardware mounted gates at the top of stairs

4)    If you are using the same gate in your home across many years, like for a younger sibling, make sure to check for gate model recalls (www.recalls.gov)

5)    Remove the gate when the child turns 2 years old or starts trying to climb the gate

6)    Double check your installation settings and tension periodically especially if a child has been pulling-up on the gate.

Now that you know the best gate safety tips, please take 5 minutes to double check if you have the right set-up in your home. If you haven't installed your stair gate yet, check out this install guide  and remember that your adult supervision is always the best safety tip.   

If you found this article helpful, share it with your friends and like below.