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Bringing up baby in a bubble

Marketers tap into American parents' anxiety about child safety with a plethora of products that promise to protect children from a variety of 'dangers.'

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As Sandra Gordon prepared for the birth of her first child five years ago, she did what many new parents do: She headed to a baby superstore. Pushing her cart through aisles piled high with the latest products, each one seeming to whisper "Buy me," she found the choices overwhelming. She realized that many items appealed to parents' understandable desire to protect children from every possible harm.

"I was a classic case," recalls Ms. Gordon, of Weston, Conn. "I went in with a basic list, but I kept seeing all these other things and thinking, 'Oh, I didn't know I needed that.' I was a marketer's dream."

That's an admission many parents can make these days as they seek the best equipment for their children, particularly products that promise safety and security. In a world perceived as ever more dangerous, they are filling carts with everything from baby monitors and childproofing devices to nursery air purifiers and child ID kits. As a result, Gordon notes, baby and child safety gear has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry in the United States - part of the $6 billion juvenile products market.

Yet as manufacturers capitalize on the sense of responsibility and inadequacy new parents feel, are they marketing safety or fear? The answer is: perhaps both.

The promise: Buy this and your child will be safe

Promoters for a shopping-cart cover assure parents that "protecting babies from the harmful bacteria on shopping carts has never been easier." Another company boasts that a similar product "keeps little ones from teething on unsanitary cart handles!"

Concerned parents who eat out can take along a special high-chair cover. "If you're worried about unsanitary restaurant high chairs, take matters into your own hands by protecting your baby or toddler from all those lurking microorganisms," one manufacturer says.

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