Baby-Safe Travel

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Have Baby, Can Travel

By Peggy Peck
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Oct. 1, 2001 -- In today's world, "Baby on Board" often means more than a car seat in the back of the family minivan: many busy parents are taking babies and toddlers along on business trips that often extend to foreign countries. But how safe is travel for the pacifier set?

The good news, says Heather Paul, executive director of Safe Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, is that the situation is improving. In 2000, Paul's group studied the condition of cribs supplied by hotels to guests who arrive with babies. "What we found wasn't good. If adult beds in the hotel rooms looked as bad as the cribs, most adults would look for other accommodations," Paul says.

Safety Check for Cribs

Problem No. 1 was that about half the time, hotels were putting regular bed sheets on cribs, resulting in loose-fitting linens that could strangle an infant. On the road or at home, there is one firm rule for crib linens: they should be appropriately sized and fit well. Never use sheets, blankets, or comforters from an adult-sized bed to cover a baby in a crib. Instead, dress baby in heavyweight PJs or a one-piece blanket sleeper to keep him warm.

Another common problem was a lack of secure mattress supports, and other cribs had dangerous loose screws and latches.

And speaking of older cribs, Paul says that some hotels had cribs with bars more than 2-3/8 inches apart. Wide set bars, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, are dangerous because a baby can be strangled or injured if her head passes through them. To see if crib bars are properly spaced, try passing a soda can through them. If the can passes, pass on the crib.

Hotel Chain Goes Public About Crib Safety

Paul says that one hotel chain has responded very publicly to the Safe Kids study. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., the parent company of Sheraton, Westin, and Four Points by Sheraton hotels, spent more than $1 million to buy more than 2,000 new cribs that Paul says "are beautiful and sturdy and safe." She says that the hotel chain is also providing hotel housekeeping services with a safety list developed by Kid Safe.

Starwood's chairman and CEO Barry S. Sternlicht says he had to agree with Safe Kids' assessment of most hotel cribs. Sternlicht, a father of young children, says that he and his wife usually bring along a crib from home when they travel because hotel cribs look "pretty shabby -- weathered, cheap, and not very clean."

Mark Pardue, general manager of the Stanhope Park Hyatt, located on New York City's "Museum Mile" overlooking Central Park, says that the Hyatt Hotels quietly initiated the "Baby Hyatt" program several years ago. The hotel chain decided to make some hotels baby friendly as a means of attracting business travelers and vacationers who want their infants nearby. Crib safety is a special focus of the Hyatt program, which includes a safety inspection and special "germicide treatment for each crib before it is put in service."

Cribs are delivered to the room and set up, which includes making up the crib with crib sheets and bumpers. The crib blankets are delivered at the same time. Parents can also request "corner covers and outlet covers," says Pardue. The same safety attention is given to booster seats, and parents can request refrigerators and/or microwaves for the room.

"Packing Your Own" Guarantees Safety and Familiarity

While it's commendable that hotels are stepping up efforts for baby safety, Dottie Enrico, director of online content for American Baby, says real safety begins at home, so take it with you when traveling. Enrico says the best approach for a safe sleeping environment is to simply take along a portacrib, or the popular Pack 'N Play convertible playpen/crib that stows in a duffel bag for travel.

One real advantage to this carry-your-own approach is that the baby will be sleeping in a familiar environment, a plus for parents planning to share a room with baby, as it makes it more likely their offspring will sleep soundly.

Safety begins with hygiene, says Enrico, so be sure to pack a good supply of antiseptic wipes and alcohol swabs to wash not only hands, but also any objects that will be touched by you or your baby. This is also a good practice away from home. "At the pediatrician's office: germ central, wipe off any waiting room toy before your child plays with it," she says.

Business travel often means hotel stays and unfamiliar surroundings. But it's a mistake to think that safety concerns can be forgotten at the grandma's front door.

Safety Can Be Relative

According to Paul, many grandparents shop garage sales for cribs and car seats so that they will be ready when a grandchild visits. "This is a no-no," she says. Before the visit, the new parents should explain that they will be bringing a car seat and should go over the safety requirements for cribs.

Likewise, it is a good idea to have a game plan for a childproofing at least one room while visiting friends or relatives. Enrico says outlet covers, VCR locks, corner covers, and in many cases a safety gate, should suffice. The gate is especially important when visiting a home where the owners have dogs or cats. "In all cases, pets should be kept away from a child who is eating," says Enrico. And this rule includes all pets, she says, not matter how gentle or how baby friendly.

Traveling with babies may not always be easy -- and is usually not too relaxing -- but it should always be safe.

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