Parenting M&M Rounds – Baby Gates

We had a near miss today.  Near misses have been on my mind a lot lately…both professionally with the work we do to improve patient safety, and at home.  We talk about near misses and adverse events during morbidity and mortality rounds (M&M rounds) at work…and I thought, I’d really like a parenting M&M round.  I mean, I really really really want to keep my children safe, as I’m sure all parents do.  Let’s face it, reading position statements and news articles and baby and toddler books is a pretty dry, non-personal way to learn about keeping our kids happy and safe, am I right?  Maybe it would be better to make it more personal.  Maybe there is a lot of wisdom out there within my fellow parents…maybe if we share our lessons less of us will have to find out the hard way.

Ground rules:

M&M rounds in the hospital are anonymous.  When we discuss a case we de-identify it so that the providers and nameless and faceless.  Why?  Because there but by the grace of god go I.  Any one of us can have a case brought to rounds and most of us will at one time or another.  We all make mistakes.  Anonymity is thought to decrease blaming, shaming and all those negative unproductive things.

So please, if you have something to share, protect your identity.

M&M rounds occur in a climate of “psychological safety.”  We do not blame, we do not belittle, we do not make nasty comments or call names.

The purpose of M&M rounds are to work as a group to find solutions.  Solutions are best when they do not rely on individuals working harder or better.  We want to identify system changes, routines, standard ways of doing things that will make near misses and adverse events (harms) less common.


So here is the case.  We (and I’m saying we because my family and I are de-identified through my internet alias) have a  baby gate at the top of our staircase.  It is a pressure gate because the railing is metal and we couldn’t figure out how to use a fixed hardware gate.  This morning my son was rattling the gate when it opened and he swung, holding onto it, out over the stairs and into space.  I was right behind him and managed to grab him and pull him to safety.  He was upset and scared…but not as much as I was.

The only reason that this was a near miss instead of a trip to the emergency department was that I was lucky enough to be RIGHT THERE when it happened.  And I guess also that my son was strong enough to hold on during the swing.

Possible corrective actions (one or more may be appropriate…we like multilevel solutions):

Change out the gate from a pressure gate to a fixed hardware gate.  Perhaps there is way to use a gate that would attach to the railing.  Does anyone know of such a modification or system?  The problem with pressure gates is that as the pressure loosens over time as the gate is opened and shut (and rattled by a toddler).  When the gates are loose, the catch isn’t very robust and the gate will open with pressure without having to press the buttons while simultaneously lifting the handle.

Modify the gate so that it only opens in one direction – i.e. will swing into the hallway at the top of the stairs but NOT out over the stairs.  Has anyone done this or thought about how it could be done?

Periodically tighten the gate.  Here’s the thing, I know that pressure gates loosen.  I’ve periodically tightened our gates.  I had been thinking that I should tighten the gate at the top of the stairs for a while..the “click” when shutting it had started to sound “mushy” rather than “crisp.”  But I didn’t bother to do it.  I’m thinking of adding gate tightening to a repeating periodic event…like say, we do it every time we put the monthly flea medicine on the dog or we do it on garbage day.  I think that making it a set activity, and maybe even putting it on the calendar, will help me actually get around to it.

Teach my son NOT to rattle gates.  I’ve been well…maybe lazy about this?  He likes to climb iron fences and rattle fences and gates…and I let him.  I supervise/ spot the climbing but that isn’t teaching him much…and baby gates look just like garden gates.

Continue close supervision around the baby gate.  I don’t like this solution because it relies on individuals working “harder” and lets face it, there are going to be gaps in supervision now and again.  You can’t helicopter your kids all the time.  But as a solution that fits in with some or all of the above, sure.  Right now, hubs and I are VERY cognizant of the danger lurking at the top of the stairs…but some time will go by and our vigilance will drop.  So we need a better solution.  Plus we’ve also had some problems with leaving the baby gate open…i.e. forgetting to close it.  So how vigilant are we really?

Get rid of the baby gate.  I’m not sure about this but I have noticed that those times that we have left the baby gate open, our son has not exactly launched himself down the stairs.  He can walk down stairs, but will only do so if he can hold onto a railing or our hands and he waits at the top of the stairs for us to help him.  Because the railing on our stairs is a glass panel within a metal frame, he doesn’t have anything to hold onto if we aren’t there.  If there are only three or four stairs (like our front stairs) if he waits too long he will turn around and climb down backwards but he hasn’t tried that with the main staircase yet.  So right now, it might actually be safer to get rid of the gate.  For now.  At some point he will try to walk down the stairs on his own so the success of this plan would rely on us noticing when he is about to try that and putting the gate back up or waiting for him to try it and stopping him and getting the gate back up before he hurts himself.


What sort of near misses or problems have you had with baby gates?  What corrective actions did you take?


  1. Sara Lewis · · Reply

    We had the same issue (railing) and solved it with a hard-ware mounted gate attached to wood that velcros securely on to the railing. I can take a picture if you like, but you can also find the kits at Babies R Us, where they sell gates. Ours works really well.

    The other side (mounted to the wall) is actually mounted to the same type of wood thing, so it circumvents having to drill holes/damage the wall.

    Make sense? I can take pics if you like.

  2. Remind us of his age, for purposes of addressing the “get rid of the baby gate” suggestion.

    1. Good point, he’s 22 months.

  3. Keep the gate–you’re going to need it with the second child, if only as a means of containing your oldest. (With a baby and a toddler, it’s really annoying to have the toddler rushing from room to room. It’s nice to be able to slow the toddler down with gates when weighed down with an infant.)

    Once, I leaned over a gate to pick up my 1-year-old. The pressure-mounted gate collapsed and the gate and I fell onto the baby! She was OK, but it was very scary for me. I have never leaned over a gate to pick up a child since.

    Speaking of gates, our pedal gates worked with our oldest until she was 4, at which point she discovered she could bounce up and down on the pedal and force the gate open. Her little brother was 2 at the time and learned the technique from her.

  4. zando · · Reply

    I love the idea of parenting M&M rounds! My stair terror moment happened shortly after my boy started walking. He woke up early (as usual), I took him down, nursed him and set him on the floor and I starting pottering around, forgeting that I hadn’t shut the gate (our living room is on the middle floor). In a panic I realised he was standing right at the top of the stairs so I rushed to him and swooped him up and hugged him very tight! I think I was lucky – he had only just started walking and so was a bit less adventurous – if this had happened more recently, I’m sure he would have thrown himself down the stairs.

    As far as gates are concerned, our gates aren’t right at the top and bottom – they’re actually kind of across the landing so even if he shook the gate and it swung open he’d just swing across the landing. The problem is the space between the top of the stairs and the gate has tended to accumulate an unsightly pile of random junk that we don’t want him to get into and we’ve been too lazy/tired to sort through.

    We didn’t get the pressure fit because I was too afraid of tripping over the bottom bit – I *always* trip over them at friends’ houses.

  5. We are about to have this problem again as in a couple of months we will have a crawler. Last time we had this problem my then youngest was 14 months old and we had just moved into a house with a spiral staircase. My husband fitted the pressure gate but the other kids would swing off it and with three kids at the time constant supervision wasn’t possible. My decision was to get rid of the gate. My daughter was naturally cautious around the stairs and there was far more risk of one or the other of us getting injured tripping over it or it giving way under a swinging child than her falling. She never did fall down the stairs. Ironically the only person who ever has was my husband!

    This time around I am very worried about the gate and am thinking we are going to have to have a very strict training regime with the older kids before she is crawling so that they use it properly. For example with our pool we have a rule that if we catch one of the kids trying to get into the pool area without permission we will drain the pool and use it as a skate bowl until they can be trusted. Haven’t had to do that yet but we enforce lesser rules (do exactly what the grown ups say or you have to get out of the pool, if you don’t get out when the grown ups tell you to then you don’t swim next time) without exception so they know we mean it.

  6. Your son is likely old enough that he can be taught to safely navigate the stairs (maybe teach him how to slide down them on his bum/tummy) – but definitely keep the gate. We are having bedtime battles with our now nearly three year old and as a last resort we gate her bedroom to keep her contained (big girl beds just aren’t as confining as cribs – which probably wouldn’t be escape proof either at this point.

  7. Margie · · Reply

    I hired someone to build me a swing out gate on hinges that locks. It is mounted between the two posts at the head of the stairs with spindles that match the railing. It could also be mounted between two walls or one post and wall. I paid $200 but well worth the investment for years of peace of mind.

  8. Your little guy is the same age as mine. We don’t have stairs, but were just at my parents’ place for a week, with lots of stairs and no gates. At this age, it definitely felt best to simply teach him how to ascend and descend safely, rather than hovering and worrying all week. He had one little slip that scared the crap out of both of us, and was MUCH more careful after that.

    1. Thanks guys. I think that removing the gate is probably the way to go. Hubs is not as convinced as I am. It will require a little bit of engineering on our parts though. There is a “decorative” hole just under the ceiling that is about 1x 2 feet. I can’t fit through it, but I’m sure my toddler can…and then proceed to fall 10 feet onto the tiled kitchen floor so we need to cover that somehow. I am visiting my in laws and parents in a few weeks and they have stairs that are carpeted. We’ll begin the education then. Our stairs are “modern” slick wood without rounded edges on a metal frame. They look cool but they are a steep death trap and even adults feel nervous going up and down them. I’m pretty sure they ain’t up to code.

      I want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and experiences.


      1. Eek. Sounds like your stairs are a little scarier than average – especially with that hole. I might be rethinking my position 😉 My parents’ stairs are just your standard spiral staircase with fairly wide and deep steps, which even if O. fell, wouldn’t be likely to result in an ER visit (that’s the gauge I use for determining what is “safe” these days).

  9. A bit late to the party because of vacation but I agree with the teach the kiddo to use the stairs wisely crowd. My toddler is the same age as yours and we have never actually used baby gates with her. She was never one to head up the stairs and I never spent much time with her upstairs so when we were up together I would watch her like a hawk. Now that she is a better walker she can do it on her own or is happy to have a parent hold her hand. I taught her to go up and down the stairs when I got tired of carrying her up and down. All I did was hold her hand and she pretty much figured it out on her own. When you have more than one kid baby gates just become a pain in the bum, kids wanting to run up and down the stairs and needing you to open and close them. It helps that we have carpeted stairs and landings so any fall would be short and relatively soft. When we had stairs with no landing in another house I made sure to have the gate up.

  10. ReadingMom · · Reply

    I don’t know about the gate, but we put anti-slip safety tape (in clear!) on our steep wooden stairs 11 years ago and I love it. I know that if I ever want it off, I will need to refinish the wooden stairs, but that’s okay with me. I find it useful myself.

  11. […] Parenting M&M Rounds – Baby Gates | theadequatemother (and I'm saying we because my family and I are de-identified through my internet alias) have a baby gate at the top of our staircase. It is a pressure gate because the railing is metal and we couldn't figure out how to use a … […]

  12. Rachel · · Reply

    Install the gate so the gate does not swing out over the stairs…

    1. I had a good laugh when I read this. Serves me right, eh?

  13. Rachel · · Reply

    Sorry, just re-read your post and you said that the gate swings both ways. There are gates that are made for the top of stairs that only open one way – maybe invest in one of these?

  14. Xmas morning 1994 my two year old was pushing on pressure gate and it gave way. She tumbled down a flight of stairs head over heels. The20 seconds she lay motionless were the longest of my life then she started crying and suffered no injury I was lucky and got proper gates danger lurks everywhere I didn’t know you are supposed to remove the foot plate on electric garage doors till I watched my neighbours daughter standing on it when her mother pushed the open she rode the door up till her head was caught between the header and the wooden door she then fell to the ground with a fractured skull

  15. When I was researching babyproofing, the universal recommendation here in the US was “no pressure mounted gates at the top of the stairs.” That’s because a pressure-mounted gate could fall off if the baby leans on it, and thus can be worse than no babyproofing at all because the parents are not supervising, nor do they have an effective gate.

    There are kits for attaching hardware-mounted gates to various kinds of railings and bannisters. For example: A handyman can also probably figure out some simple tweaks to work with the configuration of your stairs.

    That said, we could not figure out a way to install a gate at the top of our stairs, so we just didn’t. We supervise carefully upstairs. So far our toddler boy (20 months old) has not shown himself to be too interested in flinging himself down the stairs, but he’s a cautious type. Different toddler personalities may thwart the best supervision! But at the same time, it seems like those toddlers who are really interested in physical exploration generally also have better motor skills, so they will be able to learn how to get down the stairs safely sooner.

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