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Know-how: safety and buying secondhand

There is certainly no need to splash out on brand new goods every time, but there are some baby essentials which it can be dangerous to save money on by buying secondhand.

Posted: 4 November 2007
by Laura Lee Davies

The baby manufacturers certainly have a good reason to want us to buy everything brand new when we are starting a family. It boosts their profits!
However, whilst hand-me-down clothes are fine, there are some baby essentials that you should not scrimp on. There are plenty of good-value items on the market and it's worth checking these out before presuming that you simply cannot afford a new buggy, car seat or cot.

Second-hand saves money, so why worry?
The main reasons why some items are best bought new, are purely safety.
Don't feel the pressure to 'keep up with the Joneses' and spend hundreds of pounds on things which you can buy perfectly easily for less than £100, BUT this is about whether certain key items are still in a safe-to-use condition.

Wear and tear
Whilst a bit of scuffing or a stain of orange juice might not put you off the look of a secondhand carseat, tired old straps, chipped plastic fixings and soggy old linings do not make for a safe, hygienic ride for a new baby.
The same goes for baby mattresses and any other soft nursery furnishings (which may carry a risk of SIDS due to worn, badly ventilated soft materials not allowing full breathability for your child).
Also check that wear and tear has not weakened the joints of safety items like stairgates and bumpers on beds. These are in use daily and might not last you from one child to your next, even if you know their history. (From experience, we know kids have a tendency to swing on their bed bumpers!)
Check anything, from toys and clothes with clasps, to baby furniture, for wear and tear which has left plastic or metal frameworks exposed, has possibly dented or nicked something and made the body of the item sharp at all, or which has allowed loose material to become a tripping hazard.

Do you know its history?
When we run a test on a sample baby car seat from a manufacturer, they will almost certainly say 'keep it, we don't want it back'. That is because, once a car seat has been used out of their care, they cannot guarantee its future safety.
Emergency stops, damage if an item is dropped, and a road traffic accident that the car may have been in, all contribute to the stress on a safety item like a child restraint or car seat - from baby carriers right up to boosters.

RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) have published many interesting articles on the subject, including a small but telling study about the safety of secondhand car seats, which showed alarming risks could be taken if parents put children in used car seats where they did not know their history. For more on this, go to the RoSPA website.

Do you know how to use it?
Even when we bought out first baby car seat brand new, we discovered, two weeks after our son was born, that we had read the instructions incorrectly, and that we weren't fitting the seat properly!
Even with instructions, it is dangerous not to pay full attention to them, so what hope is there when you buy a product or get given a hand-me-down that has long since been separated from its manual or instructions for use? Even if it is quite new, you will have no recourse with the manufacturer if it is not properly fitted.

What products should you buy new?
Of course you really don't need to buy everything new, but here are the items which are important and NOT worth taking a gamble on:

Car seats and restraints We all want to make sure our seat belts work well, and the same goes for our children's car seats, booster seats and other restraints. The safety standard for car seats is ECE R44.04.

Pushchairs Again, these move along, at speed, and you need to know that the wheels aren't going to come off when you're crossing a road, that the safety harness is secure, and that there are no small folding mechanisms that could harm your child's curious fingers. The safety standard for pushchairs, buggies etc is BS 7409 1996 and/or BS EN 1888.

Cots Safety when your child is sleeping is one of the biggest concerns of new parents. The safety standard is BS EN716.

Mattresses As with cots, a good clean mattress that fits the cot well and is well-aired, is vital. The safety standard for mattresses is BS 1877.

Barriers and stairgates Gates and bed bumpers are, in themselves, that ultimate protection from what is on the other side from your child: steep stairs, a drop to the floor, a fireplace etc. Fitting this badly can lead to your child falling and seriously hurting himself. The safety standard for safety gates and barriers is BS EN 1930.

Highchairs and feeding chairs Hygiene and your child being safe whilst sitting high up, are very important here. The safety standard for high chairs is BS 5799 or BS EN 1178.

Other items of concern
Additionally, any toy or piece of nursery furniture that moves around should be carefully examined before using secondhand. These include sleeping bags, any cot (travel cots, Moses baskets, cribs etc), items like bouncy chairs, and other toys which may be sharp or have small pieces that can be choked on, due to being broken or worn out.

For more information and advice, visit the website of the Baby Products Association.
For more about safe car travel, check out www.carseats.org.uk.

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