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25 Sep 2020

Five key products you need that could save your baby's life

There's lots of things you can buy for your baby but only five are truly essential - and potentially lifesaving. Here's why they're top of the list

As a parent or parent-to-be, you might feel inundated by all of the 'essential' kit you're recommended to buy.

To help take guesswork out of the equation, we explain the five life-saving products you need to carefully consider, as they have a key role to play in keeping your baby out of harm's way.

After all, there's nothing more important than the safety of your little one.

How to childproof your home to prepare for your new arrival.

1. Baby car seat

If you've had a hospital birth, a car seat will probably be one of the first lifesaving products you'll be using - and you'll be using one for many years to come.

At Which? we put car seats through rigorous independent crash-testing to bring you the Best Buys in each category of car seat - as well as highlighting those you should steer clear of.

It's also important to learn how to fit a car seat into your vehicle, especially before the nerve-racking first journey home.

Even if you're not travelling home by car, you'll still need an infant carrier to get your baby home safely, or alternatively a travel system pushchair with a carrycot attached.

Here's how we put car seats to the test

How a baby car seat can be a lifesaver

When babies are born, their bones and muscles are still growing, making them vulnerable to impact injuries and uncontrolled head movements.

Various parts of their bodies - including their head, neck, spine, chest and pelvis - are extremely delicate and require extra protection from a good-quality car seat that's passed our rigorous testing.

Take a look at the top 10 best baby car seats chosen by our experts.

How to choose a baby car seat

  • A child can be up to five times safer in a rear-facing car seat than a front-facing one, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), because in a front-impact crash this type of seat will pull a child into it, thereby protecting the head and back and minimising head or neck movement.
  • Babies should be kept in a well-fitted rear-facing seat for as long as possible - 15 months minimum, but ideally until the age of three or four.
  • Your baby's rear-facing car seat should be secured in the back of the car and not the front seat, wherever possible. Make sure any active airbags for that seat are disabled.
  • Use our expert car seat safety guide to answer any safety questions you have about child car seats, including when it's safe to move kids to the next seat up.
  • Did you know?... Over half of the 1,800 parents Which? surveyed in March 2020 wrongly thought it was safest for children to travel facing forwards in their car seat from nine months old.

How to buy the right child car seat: download our shopping checklist

2. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms

If you haven't already got these alarms in your home, you should fit both (or a combined one) straight away.

Why fit a carbon monoxide detector?

Known as the silent killer because you can't see, hear, smell or taste it, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is caused by badly serviced or faulty gas-fired and other fossil fuel-burning appliances and systems.

If you only have one fuel-burning appliance, such as a gas boiler, you'll only need one CO detector. However, if you have others, such as a gas fire, gas oven or wood-burning stove, you'll need one in each room these are located in.

It's important to always look for an alarm that carries the British Standard kitemark (denoting a standard that's acceptable to the British Standards Institute) and to regularly check the batteries.

Which CO detector should you get? Check our carbon monoxide detector reviews.

Why fit a smoke alarm?

Deadly gases and smoke often spread further and faster than heat in a house fire - a third of deaths in UK house fires are from these rather than the fire itself, showing that it's critical to detect fires early.

For homes of more than one storey, fit an alarm on every level, and in every room where there's a risk of fire. Put an alarm inside your baby's room and use a baby monitor to ensure you hear if the alarm sounds.

Looking for a smoke alarm? Go to our smoke alarm reviews.

Choosing and fitting a smoke alarm

There are lots of smoke alarms to choose from, including some that are battery operated and others that are connected to the mains.

Each type uses different methods of detection so it's important to buy depending on your needs:

  • Ionisation alarms: for landings and areas with fast-flaming fires with wood or paper
  • Optical or photoelectric smoke alarms: for rooms with soft furnishings, such as bedrooms, lounges and halls
  • Heat alarms: to detect excessive temperatures in a kitchen or garage
  • Combination smoke and CO alarms: to cover both smoke and CO incidents.

3. Baby monitor

Parents like to be able to keep an eye on their little ones at all times, but what do you do if it's not possible, such as when you're looking after an older sibling or they're sleeping elsewhere?

A monitor can help you check on babies over six months old at night, during naps and when you're possibly in another part of your home with other children or doing chores in the garden.

Choosing a baby monitor

There are two types of monitor to choose from: audio monitors or video monitors.

Audio monitors

These consist of two units: one unit (the baby or nursery unit) that stays in the nursery or the room your baby is in, and the other that you keep on you, either propped or stood up in the room you're in or clipped to your clothing.

These are basic but they may be all you need. Find out more about audio baby monitors in our audio baby monitor buying guide, including how much they cost, plus what features it's worth paying a bit extra for.

Video monitors

These also have two parts, but the baby or nursery unit includes a camera that sends video footage, as well as sound, back to the parent unit. If you've got a wi-fi connected video monitor, you can view the footage on your smartphone.

If you're planning to use a wi-fi baby monitor, learn how to protect your monitor from hackers and find out what happened when we investigated how easy it is to hack into some of them.

Want to know more about video baby monitors? Check out our video baby monitor buying guide.

Find out how we test baby monitors and pick up tips on how to choose the best baby monitor.

4. Stair gate

A stair gate is to keep curious little ones away from anything that might result in them getting harmed, whether it's a flight of stairs or a kitchen with bubbling pots and hot ovens.

However, when we put them to the test, several stair gates failed. So we'd recommend checking our stair gate reviews to see which are Best Buys and which are Don't Buys, so you're not taking any chances.

The best stair gates

  • Can withstand the shaking and rattling of a determined child
  • Come with straightforward installation instructions
  • Are easy to open and close.

Take a look at our top five stair gates

You might wonder why it's so important to get a stair gate sorted while your infant is still a babe in arms, but while you have some relative calm before their arrival it's worth sorting these jobs.

Once they're crawling you'll need eyes in the back of your head to keep up with them and you'll be glad you took the time to sort out the essentials before they got moving.

Avoid these seven mistakes when installing and using your stair gate.

5. Cot mattress

The right cot mattress will help to give your baby - and therefore you - a good night's sleep, whereas the wrong one could actually pose a threat to their safety.

The Lullaby Trust, the UK's leading organisation on baby safe sleeping, says the safest place for your baby to sleep is on their own sleep surface, in the same room as you, for at least the first six months - and that means sleeping on their back on their own good-quality mattress.

Go to our cot mattress reviews to see which ones we recommend.

How to buy the right cot mattress

  • Choose the right size, which means there shouldn't be gaps more than 3cm between mattress and cot.
  • Make sure the mattress is firm, flat and protected by a waterproof cover (mattress protector).
  • Don't use second-hand mattresses if at all possible, even within the same family, because they can lose firmness after a couple of years' use, rendering them not firm enough for safe sleeping with a young baby.
  • Ensure that your mattress conforms to current safety requirements: they should carry the BSI number BS 1877-10:2011+A1:2012. It's preferable that they also carry BS 7177:1996 and BS EN 16890:2017.
  • The cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or 'cot death', still isn't known for sure but there are steps parents can take to reduce the risk, including following safe sleep advice such as never using a pillow, quilt or duvet for a baby under one.
  • If you're going to use a baby sleeping bag, make sure it's passed the Which? test - 12 out of the 15 we tested were dangerous. Find out which sleeping bags you can safely choose from.

Give your baby and toddler the best and safest sleeping space with our cot mattress safety tips.