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The best time to put up safety gates is before your baby starts crawling. For most babies that skill develops somewhere between 7 and 10 months, so installing gates when your child is about 6 months old should cover you.
If that seems too early, consider that babies quickly progress from those first tentative movements to shooting across a room in the blink of an eye. Gates are particularly important if you have stairs in your house.
In children under 2, falls from stairs are a leading cause of emergency department visits. It's ideal to install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs, but the top is the most critical spot.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends choosing safety gates that must be screwed into the walls or handrails for the tops of stairs. These types of gates are the most secure because they can't easily be dislodged.
At the bottom of a staircase, or to keep a child out of a room that contains potentially hazardous items, you may prefer to use a gate that can be secured without screws (often referred to as "pressure mounted"). Make sure that the pressure bar is located on the side of the gate away from the child so it can't be used as a toehold for a child to climb on.
See our top tips and complete buying guide to baby safety gates.
If possible, buy a new gate that bears the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certification label and install the gate according to the enclosed instructions. If you bought a used gate and you're not sure it meets current safety standards, check product recalls from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Older wooden, accordion style gates with diamond or V-shaped openings wider than 1 1/2 inches are not considered safe because a baby's arms or neck could become trapped in the open spaces.