How to Choose a Crib

For the sake of the consumer, a lot of attention has been paid to crib safety. Any crib manufactured after February 1974 must conform to strict safety codes, which were necessitated by a large number of serious crib accidents. If you are considering an older crib, perhaps one that has been in your family, compare its features with the current safety standards.

Newborn sleep for the majority of their day, and the right crib is of vital importance.

Newborn sleep for the majority of their day,
and the right crib is of vital importance.

General Crib Concerns

Crib slats must be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart to prevent babies from getting their heads or limbs caught in between them, which could result in strangulation or injury. Never use a crib if it has missing slats or spindles!

Make sure the metal hardware on the crib you buy or borrow has no rough or sharp edges, in case your baby falls against it. Also, check out the locks and latches on the drop-side of the crib to be sure your baby cannot accidentally release them from inside the crib and fall out. Many cribs have double release mechanisms -- you must use a foot release as well as release the side of the crib -- which are even safer. And once released, make sure the sides of the crib move up and down easily.

You want to be sure your baby cannot climb out of the crib. The crib should not have bars or other surfaces on railings or end panels the baby could climb on.

Another crib danger of the past was a mattress that didn't fit snugly in cribs. Babies could get their heads caught between the mattress and the crib frame and suffocate or strangle. Now all crib mattresses are a standard size: They must be 27 1/4 51 5/8 inches and not more than 6 inches thick.

When you buy a crib, don't be fooled into thinking that if you spend enough money, you'll be assured top quality. That simply isn't the case. While currently manufactured cribs generally meet minimum safety standards, some cribs are shoddy and some manufacturers have poor quality control. There's no substitute for your careful inspection of the floor model and a repeat inspection of the actual crib you purchase before and after assembly.

Look for a crib that has at least one stabilizing bar beneath the springs; two are even better. Make sure the finish of the crib is smooth and evenly painted. If it's an older crib, be sure it's not finished with a paint containing lead. If you suspect the paint contains lead, ask your local health department where you might have paint chips analyzed for lead content. Do not use a crib finished with lead-based paint-babies gnaw on crib railings; lead poisoning can cause brain damage and even death.

The crib's railings should be sturdy; you should not be able to flex them. Round railings are better than decorative spindles or those with protruding edges or corners. The teething rails should run the length of the railing tops and should not be cracked or have any jagged edges. Specialty stores sell new teething rails for older cribs. Corner posts should not extend more than 1/16 of an inch above the end panel, since these knobs can catch clothing and cause strangulation. If you already have a crib with longer corner posts, either unscrew them or saw them off and sand them smooth. The endboards should be straight and functional and should have no decorative open spaces that the baby could climb on or get caught in. Avoid decals; they may have a lot of initial appeal, but they don't hold up well.

Crib Mattresses

Crib mattresses must meet federal flame-retardant standards. Mattresses are generally available in two types: innerspring and all foam. Other variables include the thickness of the outer fabric, the number of vents, and the type of edging used around the borders.

Crib Bedding
The following list gives you a rough idea of bedding needs:
  • Three fitted crib sheets

  • Two crib-size mattress pads

  • One vinyl or plastic crib mattress protector

  • Two crib-size, flannel-covered rubber pads

  • Two small washable quilts

  • One set of bumper pads
Pillows are often sold as baby gifts, but they should never be used. They can suffocate a baby or cause postural stress to her neck.

Innerspring mattresses vary in the number of coils they have, the type of cushioning on top of the springs, the presence of a metal grid across the springs or additional metal supports, and the type of covering and venting. Although widely advertised, innerspring mattresses don't hold up to the wear and tear of a bouncing toddler. And a common complaint is that they have protruding metal parts.

Your best bet is a high-density foam mattress, which is not bouncy and doesn't have any inner parts that can break. Make sure the sides are well-vented to allow air to flow in and out under pressure, since a poorly vented mattress traps air inside and could pop, tearing the vinyl cover. A torn vinyl cover could prove dangerous to your inquisitive baby.

A firm foam mattress fits a crib more tightly than an innerspring mattress. Foam mattresses are often thinner than innerspring mattresses, resulting in a greater distance between the mattress and the top railing, thereby making it more difficult for a baby to climb out of the crib.

Crib Bumper Pads

Crib bumper pads provide extra protection for your baby. (Even a newborn can wiggle into a crib corner.) They guard against a baby becoming accidentally wedged between the mattress and the crib side or between the bars. The pads should cover all four sides of the crib and tie onto the crib bars securely in at least six places.

Remove the pads as soon as your baby begins to use them to pull herself up to stand-at this point, they could collapse, causing her to fall and hit her head against the bars. Also, your baby may use them as a prop to attempt to climb out of the crib.

Bumper pads tend to be of poor quality, and there are frequent reports of elastic snap ties tearing from pads, snaps pulling off, and vinyl seams ripping and exposing foam interiors, which a baby can ingest. Tie cords may be long enough to tangle around your baby's neck. Try to buy a firm bumper pad covered with washable fabric. Clip tie cords after you've fastened them to the crib bars, leaving only an inch of excess cord.

Portable Cribs

Portable cribs are smaller and narrower than regular cribs. Many of the regulations that cover full-size cribs are similar for portable cribs but do not apply to mesh-sided or tubular-frame portables. While some families appreciate that they can collapse their portables and take them along, portables have many problems: Shoddy construction often causes legs to crack or collapse; bottoms that aren't well supported fall through; and teething bars splinter. And these cribs just aren't as portable as they appear.

If you buy a portable crib, look for a wooden one that has no protruding wing nuts, which can loosen easily. Make sure the floor supports are sturdy, and check to see that the mattress pad is well finished and firm. The bars should be straight on all sides. Avoid one with latching gates, which a baby may climb on or which may present a pinching hazard to a baby's fingers.

Avoid models that have mesh sides or, worse yet, mesh-supported floorboards, since the mesh can tear and cause your baby to fall. Once your baby is sitting up, remove the leg supports from the crib and allow it to sit directly on the floor, or retire it from use, since portable cribs are meant for newborns and very small babies.

The crib is not the only piece of furniture in your baby's bedroom. In the next section, we will learn how to buy other baby bedroom furniture like changing tables.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.