If you have young children in your home, you likely know the importance of childproofing the things that pose dangers to them. If you don’t, babies and toddlers have an uncanny knack for getting into those things, such as electrical items, harmful chemicals, or sharp objects and corners.
When you select a childcare or daycare facility to watch over your child, you can and should have the same safety expectations of them as you take for your child. And yet, daycare injuries due to a neglect of those safety precautions happen every day. However, one of the most common daycare injuries we see are burns caused by bottle warmers, and this is such a frustrating prospect because they are also one of the most preventable injuries to children.
Q: What are bottle warmers, and what are they used for?
A: Whether a baby or toddler is on formula or breast milk, that milk often needs to be warmed so that the child will be more inclined to drink it all and receive the nutrition they need. The traditional way of doing that used to be boiling a pot of water and then standing the bottle inside the water so the milk inside the bottle would warm gradually, guessing at the temperature of the milk inside. But bottle warmers were invented to make that warming process much safer and easier by providing a way to heat their water in a controlled and optimized way so that the bottle is warmed to a preferable temperature much faster and with fewer necessary steps in between.
Q: How do bottle warmers work?
A: Most bottle warmers work by being plugged into a wall outlet via a connected cord, but some also operate on batteries or even plug into a car for feeding on the go. Whatever the case, they need electrical power in order for their warming features to activate. Then when water is poured into the container, that high and rapid heat transfers to the water where the bottle has been placed so that the heat can then be transferred to the milk inside the bottle and warmed up for the child.
Some bottle warmers are simple, just plugging in, turning on, heating up, and staying on until manually turned off. Others are more sophisticated and have timing gauges, temperature gauges, and automatic shut-off features built into them. Some types are largely universal, while others are built for a specific type and size of bottle. While the more sophisticated models tend to be safer all around, they can still pose a threat to young children if not properly used and childproofed because no matter the model or how it operates, it still results in electrical mechanisms producing very hot water.
Q: How do bottle warmer injuries happen to children?
A: It’s no surprise that contact with hot objects and hot water can be dangerous to children, just the same way they can be dangerous to a person of any age. And while it’s entirely possible to heat the contents of a bottle to a high enough temperature to burn a child’s mouth while feeding them, these days, most bottle warmer injuries actually occur when the child interacts with the bottle warmer itself in some way.
When a bottle warmer or some type of other vessel being used to heat a bottle is turned on and operating, it creates very hot water—boiling, in some cases. If the warmer and its power cord are not properly secured, and a child goes unsupervised long enough to find that cord and get their hands on it, they can potentially pull the entire warmer down off the counter or table, spilling the contents out and onto themselves. There’s also the possibility of electrocuting themselves on the wall outlet or an active electrical item, as well as the danger of the potentially heavy warmer itself falling on the child and causing physical injury.
Q: What kinds of injuries can bottle warmers cause?
A: The most common types of injury we see occur in children who interact with bottle warmers are burn injuries. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a first-degree burn on average human skin can occur at 118 degrees Fahrenheit. A second-degree burn can occur at 131 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem is that most babies and even toddlers don’t have “average” skin because human skin is much thinner and still developing the younger we are, especially for babies under one year old. That means even lower temperatures than these averages can potentially cause second-degree burns and sometimes even third-degree burns for children.
Such burning and scalding injuries are devastating no matter where they occur on the body, but if scalding hot water spills onto the head or face of a child as it topples down from a counter, it can cause debilitating, permanent damage to features like the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Severe burns anywhere on the body can also lead to a serious infection that can pose a risk for further bodily damage and even death in the most serious of cases.
Q: How do bottle injuries happen at daycare facilities?
A: Though legitimate daycare facilities and childcare services are legally required to adhere to certain safety laws and regulations regarding the setup of their facilities and the care of their children, accidents do still happen. If a facility is overcrowded or understaffed, they may take operational shortcuts that make overseeing the children in their care more manageable, but these types of actions can pose a serious risk to those children.
For example, if a daycare facility has a lot of bottle-fed children to feed at one time, they may resort to using other means and methods of heating those bottles for faster results, such as using a large crockpot that can hold multiple bottles at a time. But crockpots lack many—often any—safety features that some types of individual bottle warmers come equipped with. And no matter what kind of warmer a daycare facility uses, if that warmer isn’t put in a safe location and its cords or the table/countertop its placed on aren’t properly childproofed, a young child can easily access the cord or table and cause the warmer to fall and spill scalding water. This becomes even more likely to occur if the facility is understaffed and doesn’t keep a close eye on all children at all times as it should.
Q: How can a daycare prevent bottle warmer burn accidents?
A: The safest way a childcare facility can prevent bottle warmer injuries from happening is to always keep bottle warmers in a room or an area that’s completely inaccessible to children. But not all facilities may have the necessary layout for this to be the case, such as having a separate kitchen with a closed door, so if they don’t, they should take other precautions to prevent burn injuries.
They can childproof the warmers by making sure the outlets they’re plugged into aren’t accessible by children and that any cords for the warmer are completely out of the reach of children. They should also not leave warmers unattended for long periods of time (unless they have built-in timers or shut-off features), nor should they leave children unattended long enough to venture off and take part in unsafe behavior.
Childcare workers should also be aware of the safest and most-recommended ways to actually warm a child’s milk in order to prevent mouth burn injuries. Certified bottle warmers are always the best recommendation, but placing the bottle in a bowl of warm water or running it under warm tap water are also acceptable methods. But methods such as microwaving and stovetop heating are never recommended, as they can unevenly heat the milk and cause burns.
Q: What do I do if my child is injured by a bottle warmer at their daycare?
A: First and foremost, get your child the immediate medical attention they need. Any burns should be properly and promptly treated, as they can be extremely painful and cause rapid infection if left unattended. So be sure to take them to the hospital for thorough treatment.
Next, it’s important to understand that bottle warmer injuries are entirely preventable if the daycare facility and its employees are operating as lawfully required, meaning you may be able to hold the daycare responsible for what happened to your child. Hiring an experienced childcare injury attorney to help you open an investigation and file a lawsuit against the facility is the surest way to help your child get the ongoing medical treatment they need, as well as hopefully help prevent similar injuries from occurring to other children at the facility in the future.