When I was about 12 years old, my mom told me that if I ever see a baby get his head stuck between the spindles of the staircase railing, I should NEVER pull the baby back out by his legs. Instead, I should push the rest of the baby's body forward through the spindles to get him out. I can still remember her exact words:
"Always remember," she said, "the head is the largest part of a child's body. If the head can get through the opening, the rest of his body can too. You should never pull the baby back out by pulling his head back through the slat. You could break their neck or cause serious damage to the baby's brain and skull."
I think she must have seen this happen to a child once because she used to repeat this story at every opportunity she got until I told her, "Okay, I got it." At the time, my brother had just been born and I think she was telling me this as a preventative measure. So that in case I found my brother with his head stuck between the staircase railing, I would know what to do to get him out safely. Luckily, my brother never pulled such a stunt, and as I grew up, I filed this information away in my mind as "Good to Know Info I Will Need to Use......Never".
However, after what happened today, this information is now pushed up front to one of my "Top Things To Know About Kids."
While I was getting ready to pick up my son from preschool, the twins were playing out in the hallway. All of a sudden, I hear Zee say, "I'm stuck." I didn't rush to her immediately because I thought she was playing a game with her sister. Then she started to cry and kept saying, "I'm stuck! I'm stuck!". I walked out into the hallway and saw...
Her head was wedged between the staircase railing!!!!!!
After freaking out momentarily and yelling, "OMG! Why did you do this?!", I calmed myself down and thought quickly how to get her out. It was then, as if in a flashback, my mother's words came back to me. I remember at the time, she had even demonstrated to me with a doll how to get a child out from this kind of situation. She pulled the doll sideways from the front of the railing.
I'm glad she gave me the visual because it really helped me figure out how to get Zee out of the railing today. I got in front of her and turned her body to her side so her shoulders and arms were almost parallel to the floor, and then gently pulled her out. It took less than one minute! I couldn't believe her entire body slid right through that narrow space! And with such ease. Mom was right. If the head can fit through the opening, the entire body can too. (It kind of reminds of how a baby is born. As long as the head gets through first, the rest of the body slides right out. Conversely, if a baby is breech, natural labor is near impossible and you need a C-section to get the baby out. All of my babies were breech and I had to have a C-section every time. My kids couldn't give me a break even during labor. )
Now that I got her out and she's perfectly fine, I'm a little worried about our other stair railing, the one that overlooks the family room and has a 10 ft. drop.
If she had gotten stuck in there, I swear I would have ripped the spindles to get her out. There would have been no other way to get her out of the railing if her head was facing that huge drop below. Well actually, now that I think of it, a better option would be to call 911 and have the fire department come over and get her out. They've got the ladders and the training to do this more safely than I would, and I probably could prevent ripping out a spindle and leaving a gaping hole in my railing.
I thought my baby-proofing days were over, but clearly, this was a wake-up call for me to get some protection on my staircase. Not to protect them from falling down the stairs (they're already expert on going up and down), but to prevent them from falling through the railing. According to Colorado Childproofers, nets are not safe enough, I have to get rigid plastic sheeting installed to make sure this doesn't happen again. Even though I doubt the other children will try it, or that Zee will try it again, I never know what these kids are thinking. Knowing them, they might give a repeat performance just to impress their friends. Especially now that they know Mom knows how to get them out of the predicament. (I gave my son a lesson on how to remove a baby stuck in a stair rail with his Curious George doll. At age five, he's the oldest, and I think he probably knows by now that sticking your head through a railing is not safe. He and I took pictures, see below).
So, just in case you find yourself in a situation like I faced today, here is a step-by-step visual guide on How to Safely Remove a Child Who Has Gotten Their Head Stuck Between the Staircase Railing. This is how I safely removed Zee today, and I hope it can help someone else.
(Note: Curious George will be filling in for the RE-ENACTMENT.)
First of all, if you ever see a child in this situation, the first thing you need to do is relax and remain calm. Yes, you're probably angry that your child got themselves in this predicament in the first place, but trust me, yelling will accomplish nothing. I'm saying this because regretfully, that's what I started doing when I found Zee in this situation and I feel terrible about it. All she wanted was for me to get her out of the staircase, and instead, the first thing I did was start yelling at her for doing something so dangerous, and didn't she know we had to leave in five minutes to pick her brother up from school?!?!? It was completely uncalled for and I feel terrible about it. Please don't make the same mistake I did. Keep your cool.
Next, tell your child everything will be okay. She's more petrified than you. Then, turn her shoulders and her body to the side so that her body makes about a 45 degree angle with the floor, or almost horizontally parallel with the floor. Shoulder and arms should be positioned to slide out between the spindles.
Place your hands around her neck and butt and gently start pulling her out, sideways through the bars.
Remember to use both hands. Most of these pictures show me pulling George out with one hand because the other hand is taking the photo. My son was supposed to do all the photography for this demo, but he was impatient and made the pictures blurry. But this one turned out decent. The main thing to remember is to protect the neck and the lower back (and bum) at all times.
Voila! The child is free and happy to be out. Give her a big hug and tell her never to do this again. Nicely.
I alway thought my mom was a crazy loon for always repeating advice like this to me, but I now realize she was just trying to teach me a life lesson. After what I experienced today, I'm really glad she did.
Is your staircase railing safe for your toddler? Here's how you can check.
Measure the space between your staircase railing spindles (a.k.a. balusters). The space should not be more than 4 inches. Anything less than 4 inches is safe, anything more than this measurement is dangerous and requires baby proofing. I measured between the spindles on my railing and it's 4 3/4 inches, which explains how she got her head through it and got stuck.