How to Baby Proof Your Stairs to Prevent Falls

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
June 22, 2014

According to the CDC, approximately 8,000 children are treated in emergency rooms across the United States for fall related injuries each day. Each day. That adds up to over 2.9 million injuries a year.

One of the most common places in the house where falls occur is the staircase. Fortunately, it is quick and simple to baby proof. Read on and learn everything you need to know about baby proofing your staircase.

baby sitting on stair
Image Source: Reshot

Our Top 3

Restrict your child's access to the staircase

If you have read my other baby proofing guides then by now you will definitely be noticing a pattern. The easiest way to childproof just about any room or object such as stairs is to prevent your child from getting near.

Using a baby gate to childproof your stairs

baby trying to move on stair
Image Source: Flickr

The best baby proofing solution to prevent your child climbing the stairs is a baby gate or fence. A baby gate will prevent your child from going anywhere near the staircase.

A properly installed baby gate will hamper your curious child's access even when you are not watching. Trust me, they will quickly become your best friend.

Choosing a baby gate to suit you and your baby

Before you go out and purchase any old baby gate and fence, you need to consider your lifestyle. As always, no single baby proofing product is perfect for every parent's situation.

For example, in relation to baby gates for stairs, you may need to consider the following:

  • Are the stairs constantly in use throughout the day? If so then you will want a baby gate that can be opened and closed as quickly as possible.
  • Do you carry objects such as laundry or your child up and down the stairs? If so then you will need baby gate that can be opened easily with one hand
  • Do you want to section off not only the stairs but access to a joining room? If so then you will need a find a longer than normal baby gate.
  • Do you want your baby gate to match your interior design scheme? This question should be asked very last and is probably the least important. You do not want to compromise your child's safety just for looks.

There are hundreds of different designed to keep your child safe on the stairs. Be sure to research which one best suits your situation. For more advice, you can refer to my baby gate buyers guide outlining everything you need to find the perfect baby gate for you.

toddler sitting in stair with cage
Image Source: Flickr

With that out of the way, let us take a closer look at the different solutions available to keep your child away from the stairs.

Baby Gates for large areas

Baby gates for open areas will need to be attached to a wall or doorframe with screws. They need to be hardware mounted in order to remain sturdy over the distance stretched.

If your house is like mine and you have a large section around the base of stairs that you need to fence off then look no further than a 3-in-1 gate.

While it is a nice bonus that a 3-in-1 baby gate can turn into a playpen, that is not its main attraction. This baby gate has extensions that can be purchased separately that will allow it to cover virtually any distance (with enough extension pieces). This means that not only can you restrict access to the stairs, but to rooms or hazards around the stairs as well.

These baby gates are popular among parents who have open staircases (Stairs without one or more sides).

Metal Baby Gate

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • Multi-purpose.
  • Easy to assemble.
  • Extensions available.

Wood Baby Gate

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • Multi-purpose.
  • Easy to assemble.
  • Extensions available.

Baby gates just for the stair entrance

If you don't have a wide open area at the base of your stairs then a large baby gate is no good to you at all. Fortunately, there are plenty of baby gates that will fit perfectly inside the entrance to your stairwell.

Expandable baby gates, also known as pressure-mounted baby gates, are simple to install and extremely portable. They will require two flat surfaces to press against, such as the stair banister and wall. Because of this, elaborate staircases (and even some plain ones) are not suited to expandable baby gates. If you have an unusual staircase you will have to use a hardware mounted baby gate.

My major gripe with the expandable gate variety is that as they fit inside a walkway, the usable space between the gateway which you actually walk through is quite narrow. You will struggle if you need to take suitcases or travel bags between rooms.

baby climbing in stair
Image Source: Flickr

Depending on the brand of gate, you will have the option of extension pieces. Although these cost extra, these are very handy for those of you with wider than normal stairs.

Despite their downsides, many parents swear by expandable baby gates. Just remember that you should only us expandable gates at the bottom of the stairs, never the top. This is because a child's weight may cause the gate to slip and fall. It is a much higher fall from the top of the stairs than the bottom.

My favorite expandable baby gate is the one below. It is taller than regular gates (A must for those infants that love to climb) and can easily be opened and closed with one hand.

What I like most, however, is that optional hardware mounts are included. This means that you can have gates at the top and bottom of the stairs that match. You can use the hardware-mounted gates at the top of the stairs and the expandable gate at the bottom.

Expandable Baby Gate

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • Auto-close door.
  • Bronze finish.
  • 48"x 0.8"x 36".

If you or your partner are confident with your hands you can build your own baby gate. Just be prepared to put aside a good part of your day to piece the baby gate together.

Baby proof the top of the staircase

Unless you live in a sprawling mansion (In which case, lucky you), chances are you will have much less space at the top of your stairs than at the base.

As your child has a lot further to fall at the top of the stairs you will want your baby gate as tall as possible. This is to prevent your child from climbing over the gate using a box or play toy as a makeshift ladder.

The baby gate you choose for the top of the stairs should be hardware mounted. Yes, this means that you will have to screw into your wall or banister, but the end result is a much safer baby gate.

The reason retractable baby gates are not recommended for the top of the stairs is that the pieces of the gate that push against the sides of the stairs can come loose.

Over time the gate is pushed on, leaned against and accidentally bumped. Slowly but surely the sides can come loose. At this stage, all it takes is your child to attempt to climb the gate or put too much weight on one side and the gate will collapse, sending your child tumbling down the stairs.

I mentioned my favorite gate that can be pressure mounted or hardware mounted earlier in the article so I will show you a different variety for this section.

Most baby gates have a threshold that you will need to step over. The threshold can easily cause trips and stub toes. The baby gate below not only has no threshold but also allows you to use almost the entire space in a walkway. Great for high traffic areas.

Swinging Gate

Swinging Gate

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • No trip hazard.
  • Swings out of the way.
  • Fits openings 28" to 48".

Mounting a baby gate without drilling into the banister

For some parents, mounting the baby gate to the banister is simply not an option. Perhaps your landlord prohibits you from modifying the house or you simply trying to avoid screw holes in your banister. Hardware mounting baby gates are not for everyone.

Fortunately, there is a simple device that attaches directly to your banister allowing you to install your baby gate without destroying your banister. Simply clip the mount to your banister then drill your baby gate straight into this temporary mount.

The baby gate mount even works great on irregularly shaped banisters.

No Hole Baby Gate Mounting Kit

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • Hole-free.
  • Easy install.

For those of you who are feeling frugal or simply love a DIY project, you can easily make your own baby gate mounts using the following directions.

You will need:

  • Heavy duty zip ties
  • One to two lengths of 2x4
  • Measuring tape
  • Saw
  • Paint (Optional)
  • Baby gate

The steps

  1. Measure the banister as to how high you want your brackets to rise. Ensure that the measurement is higher than your baby gate.
  2. Cut the 2x4 to length, you will want two pieces, one for each banister.
  3. If desired, paint the 2x4 to match the color of the banister
  4. Secure the 2x4 to your banister using zip ties so that both are perfectly facing each other. Use as many zip ties as required until secure. These are your new baby gate brackets.
  5. Mount the baby gate directly to the 2x4. Be careful that the screws do not drill through the 2x4 then into the banister.

And there you have it, a quick and simple way to mount a baby gate without drilling into your banister. When you no longer need the stairs baby proofed, simply cut off the zip ties for easy removal.

With baby gates out of the way, let us look at how you can keep your stairs super safe.

Baby proofing the stair railing

brown stair
Image Source: Pexels

Another area of the stairs that many people forget to baby proof is the banister itself.

Your child can easily try to steady themselves on the banister only to put their hand through the gap rather than grab the rail. This will no doubt end in a fall for your little one.

The other problem with banisters is that the gaps can be very tempting to squeeze toys through. To a child dropping a toy from the top of the stairs and pretending it can fly is great fun. Watch out below!

The easiest way to deal with this is to install a banister guard. A banister guard is essentially a sheet of plastic or netting that runs along the length of the banister, covering up the gaps.

I prefer the plastic variety myself as I find the net variety will eventually tear or shed when your little one tries to fiddle with them.

The sheet of plastic comes with zip ties that secure it to your banister. Many parents have had success finding their own plastic at a local hardware store and purchasing it along with their own zip ties to save a bit of money. Just be sure that the plastic will support a child leaning against it.

Banister Guard

Colors: As pictured

Features:

  • Transparent.
  • Easy install.
  • 3' x 15' per roll.

Declutter those stairs

Child toys end up everywhere. Often in places that make you proclaim "How on earth...?". One place that you definitely don't want toys to end up is on stair steps.

Stepping on a toy like a ball mid-step can send you or your child sprawling down the staircase. Be quick to pick up any objects you see sitting on the steps to avoid tripping over them later.

Baby-proof even if you have small stairs

I would strongly consider childproofing stairs even if they only have a few steps. The last thing you want is for your child to be running around and fall head over biscuit down the stairs.

Even if you don't have stairs in your house but rather a single step, the principle is exactly the same. What may seem like a minor fall to you can be a serious injury to a small child.

Short of covering every step completely in sponge, baby gates are the best way to childproof smaller stairs and steps.

wooden floor with stair
Image Source: Pexels

Consider carpeting the stairs

If you were ever considering carpeting the house, now is a fantastic time to do it. Wood can be particularly slippery for older babies and carpet will cushion any falls.

Carpeted stairs will still be useful as your child gets older. I was recently at my neighbor's when their seven-year-old son was running up the stairs and had a bit of a tumble. Fortunately, the stairs were carpeted and besides a bruised ego, there were was no injury.

A final warning on baby proofing stairs

Baby gates are not the holy grail of baby proofing stairs.

Baby gates are great as long as they selected and installed correctly for your situation. For example, You should always use hardware-mounted baby gates at the top of the stairs. Gates that only press against walls, known as pressure mounted gates, can fall with weight leaning against them.

As soon as your child can figure out how to climb over or open a baby gate (typically around the two-year-old mark) it is best to remove them. At this stage, they pose a fall hazard as your child can easily trip over the base when walking through.

A study published in the May-June issue of Academic Pediatrics reported that an average of five children are injured on baby gates each day.

Baby gate injuries are so common around stairs that the Nationwide Children's Organization has even made a short video covering the topic.

Baby gates are still recommended by many as the best way to baby proof your stairs. Just remember to take the proper precautions.

You made it!

luxury stair
Image Source: Pixabay

If you are still with me then you have made to the end of yet another of my baby proofing guides. Congratulations. hopefully, you now have all the skills needed to get out there and start childproofing your stairs. Good luck!

If you have any further questions or have advice to share, let me know!

Feautured Image Source: Flickr

Related Resources

How to baby proof a spiral staircase
Picture guide to baby proofing stairs without drilling into banister

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