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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Baby roomer

PARENTS OF BABIES and toddlers know the drill: Stash away the chemicals. Cover the electrical outlets. Block off the stairs.

Baby-proofing can prevent curious little ones from finding dangers at home.

But it doesn’t stop there. What about child-proofing when you’re away from home?

“You’re not taking a vacation from safety when you’re traveling with your family,” says Angela Mickalide, program director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

Spend some time in a hotel room with a toddler and you’ll discover potential hazards you might never imagine.

There’s the rickety TV stand to pull over. Little things, like buttons, earring backs and pills, in the carpet to choke on. Drapery cords to get tangled in. Balconies. Plants. Too-hot water in the tub.

“When parents are on vacation, they’re generally in a more-relaxed state of mind,” Mickalide says. “They have to remember children are in an unfamiliar environment and they’re in an unfamiliar environment. So, they can’t let their guard down.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to keep your little guy or gal shuttered in a padded room at home. (Though that might be tempting.)

Taking the show on the road simply requires a little advance planning.

“Sometimes people just like getting in the car and taking trips,” says Debra Holtzman, Florida-based child-safety advocate. “But when you have a kid, though, you have a responsibility. And you don’t want a great trip to turn into something tragic.”

Holtzman knows what she’s talking about. Her son, now an 11th-grader, was so wild when he was little, “he redefined child-proofing,” she says.

So, Holtzman, an attorney who also has a master’s degree in occupational safety and health, dedicated herself to learning more about child safety. She has since written two books on the subject, including “The Safe Baby” (Sentient Publications, 2004). She appears as the safety expert on the Discovery Health channel’s “Make Room for Baby” nursery design show.

The first step to a safe trip entails a call to the hotel, Holtzman says.

Ask if there is child-proofing equipment available for guests, such as outlet covers and drawer locks.

At Spokane’s Davenport Hotel, for instance, the housekeeping staff will cover the electrical outlets if called in advance, spokesman Tom McArthur says.

If baby-proofing gear is not available at the hotel, you’ll want to make your own portable kit, Holtzman says.

Stock it with masking tape, outlet covers, strong rubber bands, a nightlight and a first-aid kit, she suggests.

Masking tape has many uses in on-the-road baby-proofing. Use it to attach washcloths to sharp corners on tables. Use it to hold drawers closed. Use it to cover the bathroom door lock so junior won’t get stuck inside.

Strong rubber bands can keep electrical cords out of the way. They can be used to hold strings from drapes and blinds up high. Or they can be looped through cabinet handles to keep them closed.

When you call the hotel, you’ll also want to ask about cribs. Does the hotel have them available for guests or will you need to bring your own?

If the hotel has cribs on site, you should find out the make and model, Holtzman says. That way, you can check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission ( to see if the crib has been recalled.

An informal survey by the CPSC and the National SAFE KIDS Campaign found unsafe cribs and play yards in 80 percent of hotels and motels.

Some had loose hardware or lacked secured mattress supports, the 2000 survey found. Others came with soft bedding that could pose a suffocation hazard. Others had tears in the mesh netting that could trap a baby.

Amy Havens, owner of Spokane’s Child Haven Learning Center, took her now-11-year-old son to Hawaii when he was 4 months old.

“The crib was so ancient,” Havens says. “We had to prop it against the wall because it was falling apart. I just remember the crib was absolute garbage.”

After that experience, Havens recommends parents bring their own portable crib with them on trips.

Even if you find a hotel that has a safe crib, it’s wise to pack your own bedding, Holtzman says.

Many hotels only have adult-sized sheets and blankets. Plus, it’s nice to have a reminder of home in bed with baby, she says.

Create a “safe zone” around the crib once it’s in the room, Holtzman says. Make sure it’s far away from hanging cords and anything hanging on the wall. Be sure that baby can’t reach anything on tables near the crib.

Next, it’s important to check out the room. The best way to do it? Make like a baby and crawl around on the floor.

Look for small objects — buttons or pills or loose change — hiding in the carpet or under the bed. Housekeepers might miss them, but your little one probably won’t. And they’ll go straight into his or her mouth.

Tuck any plants in a closet or behind a big piece of furniture.

Check out the furniture to see if it could easily be toppled by a baby pulling up to stand.

You should ask for a non-smoking room, but if the room has matches and ashtrays, be sure to move them far away from baby’s reach.

If you’re traveling with a small child, it’s smartest to request a room without a balcony, Holtzman says.

“It’s just another added risk,” she says.

If your room does have a balcony, make sure the door to it is locked at all times. Same goes for windows. Don’t expect mesh screens to keep a little one from falling out, she says.

Mini-bars should also be locked, she says. Alcohol can be toxic to children, plus, many of the snacks in there pose choking hazards, she says.

Hotel bathrooms can also be dangerous to young children.

The water temperature is often too high. Those free toiletries can be poisonous. Electrical appliances can fall into the water and cause electrocution.

It’s best to keep the bathroom door close and keep close watch on your kids when they’re near there, Holtzman says.

It may sound like a lot of work to keep a little one safe away from home. It is an extra layer of responsibility, but that goes along with being a parent.

“I don’t think that’s paranoid,” Holtzman says. “I think that’s really prudent.”

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