Baby gates are designed to keep your baby safe, so there’s a great deal to consider when choosing one. In our buying guide, we’ll outline the purpose of a baby gate, why you might need one and features you’ll want to consider when choosing the right one for your house.
What is the Purpose of a Baby Gate?
Baby gates come in many different styles, but their primary function is the same: to serve as a barrier to keep your child in or out of a specific area. They can be used differently as your baby grows and moves from crawling to walking. For example, once your child transitions out of a crib, a baby gate across his doorway might be necessary to keep him safely in his room if he gets up early.
Below are examples of other common uses for baby gates:
- Blocking off stairways: Especially as they become more mobile, children can quickly reach a stairway before you have a chance to grab them. Installing a baby gate means you won’t have to be on high alert for a potential tumble down the stairs.
- Enclosing rooms: There are times when you have your hands full and need your baby to stay in the same room as you. Thinkmaking dinner or folding the laundry.
- Blocking hazards: There might be a part of a room where you don’t want your baby to go, like near a fireplace or other hazard. Some gates are designed to block off small areas.
In addition to safety, one of the main benefits of baby gates is giving parents peace of mind. In fact, they may actually help you sleep better at night. Parenthood is full of worry, and properly installed baby gates can remove at least a few worries from your head. Your baby will also sleep better after being allowed a day to freely explore safe areas of your home.
Do you need a Baby Gate in your Home?
While you generally want to keep your baby within eyesight, baby gates are still very useful, unless you want to follow right behind your child at all times. Especially as kids get older and faster, it may be nearly impossible to keep them out of danger otherwise. Baby gates are also crucial if you have multiple children to attend to or if you’re a childcare provider.
Baby gates are no substitute for an attentive parent or caregiver and should be used in conjunction with other baby-proofing measures, but they are very effective at preventing injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists baby gates as number two on its list of “12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children.”
Stair injuries alone are one of the leading causes of hospitalization in young children. In fact, a child under five in the US is treated for a stair-related injury in an emergency department about every six minutes. Most of these falls are completely preventable, and a recent study posits that 45 percent of stair injuries could be avoided with the proper use of baby gates.
What to Consider when Buying a Baby Gate
Type of Gate – There are two main types of baby gates on the market, and they each work well for different applications:
- Pressure mounted: Pressure-mounted gates stay in place using tension, similar to a shower curtain rod. These are most often used in doorways
- Easy to install
- Can be moved from place to place
- More common
- Could be knocked over, especially if not installed correctly
- Should not be used for stairways
- Hardware mounted: These attach securely to the wall using screws and tend to be used in stairways.
- More secure than pressure mounted
- Safest option for stairways
- Nearly impossible to knock over
- Harder to install
- Leaves holes in the wall
Safety – Safety is the number one consideration to make when purchasing a baby gate. There’s a great deal to consider when choosing a gate that’s safe for your intended use, including:
- Attachment method: When mounted properly, pressure-mounted gates can be very secure, but may not stand up to an adventurous toddler attempting to climb over. That’s why hardware-mounted gates should always be used in stairways or if you have a child with a knack for climbing.
- Small parts: Does your chosen baby gate have small parts that could become loose and pose a choking hazard? Be sure to consider this and always follow installation instructions to ensure everything is safe and secure.
- Easy to open: Some baby gates have doors built in to make it easier to pass through them when needed. If these are too easy to open, however, your child might learn how to do so. Gates without a door can also present a fall hazard to adults who have to step over them, so be sure to weigh your options.
- Large pets: If you have large, rambunctious dogs in your house, you may want to opt for hardware-mounted gates that can stand up to a dog trying to get through.
In addition to paying attention to these features, be sure to check if your baby gate of choice is certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). A JPMA seal certifies that baby products meet minimum government requirements for safety as well as additional standards. Baby gates certified by JPMA cannot be under 22 inches tall and the space between the bottom of the gate and floor has to be under 3 inches.
Where is it Going? – The type of gate or gates you’ll need will depend a great deal on where they’re going. As mentioned above, pressure mounted gates can work great as a barrier between rooms, but hardware mounted gates are the only safe option for stairways.
You’ll also want to consider how often you’ll need to get through the gate. If it’s in a high-trafficked area, you may want to choose a gate that has a door or can be easily stepped over. The size of your space is another consideration. Some gates are specifically designed to be used in large doorways and others are even large enough to block off a section of a room.
Materials – Baby gates are made from all types of materials, and each have pros and cons. Most are made from plastic, wood, metal, fabric or a combination of one or more. Metal is certainly the sturdiest material and can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. It also tends to be more expensive than plastic or wood and is less forgiving if your child hits his or her head on it.
Fabric gates are loved by many parents because they’re less noisy and softer if your child runs into them. They may be less durable if you have a pet who likes to chew. You’ll also want to consider the possibility of your child using the baby gate as a teething toy and pick something that won’t be harmful if it ends up in his or her mouth.
Portability – Some baby gates are designed to stay in place while others are built for portability. Depending on your needs, you may consider purchasing multiple gates for different uses. Pressure-mounted gates tend to be more portable and are a great option for travel or a grandparent’s house where the gate doesn’t need to be up all the time. You may also want to move a gate around your own house depending on where you are, so finding something lightweight and easy to install is key.
Longevity – Unless you want to buy a new baby gate as your child grows, you may want to think about long-term use. Less sturdy baby gates may be perfectly fine when your child is just crawling, but may not stand up to a walking, climbing toddler. A gate that’s easy to open might also be great for a while, but once your child is taller, he or she may figure out how to open it. Also consider if you plan to use a specific gate through multiple children and choose one that will stand up to repeated use.
Space – It’s important to measure the space where you plan to put your baby gate to ensure it fits properly. Most doorways are between 32 and 36 inches wide, and standard baby gates are designed to fit this width. There are instances when you might need something larger, such as enlarged doorways, outdoor spaces or the need to block off a section of a room. Some gates are designed for large spaces, while others come with additional expansion pieces.