While you might consider a bassinet, cradle, or bedside sleeper at first (some common alternatives for your baby's first four months or so), your child is safest in a crib. Certification by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Associate on a bassinet can offer a layer of protection that uncertified models cannot, but a JPMA label is no guarantee of safety. We don't recommend bedside sleepers (also referred to as "co-sleepers") at all because there are neither voluntary nor mandatory standards covering them. This crib guide will help you to make your buying decision.
Basic is best
The safest cribs are basic, with simple lines and no scrollwork or finials-infants can strangle if their clothing gets caught in such detail work. Heeding this advice will get you a safer crib-and save you money. New Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for full-size and portable cribs require the elimination of drop-side models that have been related to at least 32 deaths over the past few years. The standards also include rigorous new durability testing, and require improved warnings and labeling. Consumer Reports' tests, which are based on the previous safety standards, do not address the durability issues addressed by the newer durability standards.
If possible, avoid buying or accepting a used crib. Older models might not meet current safety standards or might be in disrepair. If you must use an older crib, avoid those built before 2000, about a year after the latest voluntary standards for slat-attachment strength took effect. By law, the production date of the crib has to be displayed on the crib and on its shipping carton.
Still, be on the lookout for safety hazards. Even when you're buying new, bring a ruler with you when you shop. If the spaces between the slats--or anywhere else on the crib--are greater than 2 inches (2.375 inches) wide, they are too far apart. If you buy online, measure any openings immediately when the crib arrives at your home.
Check for sharp edges and protruding screws, nuts, corner posts, decorative knobs, and other pieces that could catch a baby's clothing at the neck. Buying new could help to protect your baby from hidden dangers such as drop sides, slats, or hardware that might have been weakened by rough use, or excessive dampness or heat during storage.
Check construction and workmanship
The simplest in-store test is to shake the crib slightly to see if the frame seems loose. But be aware that display models aren't always as tightly assembled as they could be. Without applying excessive pressure, try rotating each slat to see if it's well secured to the railings. You shouldn't find loose bars on a new crib, or any cracking if they are made of wood.
Buy the mattress at the same time
In the store, pair the mattress and crib you plan to buy to make sure that they're a good fit. (Mattresses typically are sold separately.) By law, a mattress used in a full-size crib must be at least 27 1/4 inches wide by 51 5/8 inches long and no more than 6 inches thick. Still, do a quick check. If you can place more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib frame, the fit isn't snug enough.
Arrange for assembly
Cribs are shipped unassembled, so if you're not sure that you can put a crib together correctly (typically a two-person job that requires up to an hour-from unpacking to complete assembly), ask the retailer to send a qualified assembly crew to your home. That can cost an extra $70 or more unless assembly is included in the retail price, but it can give you valuable peace of mind. Besides saving tempers and fingers, crib assembly by the store allows you to inspect the crib on the spot-and reject it if you discover flaws.
Assemble the crib or have it assembled where your baby will be sleeping initially, such as in your bedroom (recommended for your baby's first six months). Once it's put together, the crib might not fit through a small doorway, and you might need to disassemble and reassemble it in your baby's nursery six months later. Having the baby in your room might not be convenient, but you'll have the reassurance that your baby is sleeping in the safest possible place.
Adjust the mattress to the right height
Most cribs have this feature, some with only three levels and some with several levels. The higher levels make it easier to take your infant out of the crib but become dangerous when your child is able to pull herself to a standing position. Before your child reaches that stage-about 6 months-the mattress should be at its lowest setting. Bumper pads and large toys help your little escape artists to climb out, which is another reason that they don't belong in the crib.
Place your baby's crib well away from windows, window blinds, wall hangings, curtains, toys, and other furniture so that an adventurous baby can't get to anything dangerous.
For safety's sake, monitor your child's development closely and stop using a crib as soon as your toddler can climb out. At that point, consider a toddler bed with child railings or put the mattress on the floor. Don't put your child back into the crib after the first "escape," regardless of his age. A child attempting to climb out of a crib can fall and be seriously injured.
Use the proper sheets
When buying the mattress, make sure you also buy sheets that fit. If a sheet isn't the correct fit, your baby might pull it up and become entangled. Test the sheet by pulling up on each corner to make sure it doesn't pop off the mattress corner.
After you crib has been in use for awhile, make sure to check all the hardware periodically and tighten or replace anything that's missing or loose. Missing and loose parts are a leading cause of accidents and death, because they can create gaps where a baby can wedge his head and neck, and suffocate or strangle. Tighten all nuts, bolts, and screws. Check mattress supportattachments regularly to make sure none of them are bent or broken. If you move a crib, double-check that all support hangers are secure.
Let your baby sleep unencumbered. Don't wrap your bundle of joy in blankets or comforters when he's in the crib. He can quickly become entangled and might not be able to free himself. Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed animals, or dolls don't belong in the bassinet or crib. And remember that babies can quickly overheat. Put yours to sleep in lightweight clothes and set the thermostat at a comfortable 70 degrees. Infant sleepwear should fit snuggly and be made of flame-resistant fabric, with no drawstrings, ribbons, or anything else that might catch on something. Buttons and snaps should be firmly attached to avoid becoming a choking hazard.
Always put your baby to sleep on his back, not his stomach, to minimize the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and rebreathing, a sometimes fatal circumstance that can occur when a baby is sleeping on his stomach or trapped in soft bedding. As a result the child "rebreathes" his own carbon dioxide rather than breathing in oxygen-rich fresh air. The lack of oxygen can cause death.
Don't use a sleep positioner to keep your baby on his or her back. Many sleep positioner models, including some made of memory foam, can be lethal. If the infant moves down and presses his or her face against the soft surface, the air passages can be blocked, causing suffocation.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.