Your baby's crib should be a haven of safety and comfort. He will certainly spend many hours here, both at play and at sleep. A good crib, you will find, is a place where you can keep your baby safe while sleeping or
taking some time for yourself.
Government manufacturing standards set in 1973 have greatly improved crib safety; so most new cribs sold in the U.S. are very safe. Despite this, cribs continue to be associated with the highest child injury rates of any nursery item. Approximately 50 infants each year are killed and another 9,000 are injured in crib-related accidents in the U.S.
Safety, Safety, Safety!
When shopping for your baby's crib the three top features to consider are safety, safety and then safety. Once you have found several safe cribs to choose from, then and only then should you consider shape, style, and color. Make safety the top priority when searching for your baby's crib.
Does Your Crib Measure Up?
Regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission are required to insure crib safety. Before you purchase a crib be sure the following safety standards are met.
- The vertical bars or slats must be no further apart than two and
three-eighth inches or 60 mm, to prevent infants from slipping through or
becoming stuck between them. An infant's head is relatively larger than the
rest of his body and could become stuck between bars that are too far apart
if his body slips through.
- Any openings at the end walls of your crib, such as decorative cutouts, must
not exceed two and three-eighth inches, because they might also allow an
infant's body to slip through.
- If a vertical bar on a crib side is broken off, the gap between the
remaining bars will likely be dangerous to an infant inside. Be sure the
crib bars are sturdy and intact.
- Injury can also occur if an infant crawls or climbs over the side of a crib.
Be sure the top of each crib side is not less than 9 inches at its lowest
position and 26 inches when raised.
Sometimes baby furniture, such as cribs and dressers get passed down from
grandparents to parents or sold in antique stores, garage sales and used
furniture stores. Beware of secondhand cribs- over 25 million unsafe cribs
are still out there! Some were made long before crib safety was considered
important, while others were just made without regard to recent safety
standards. Older cribs very likely will not have the safety features
required of cribs manufactured today. Although you will pay more, a new crib
is well worth having for the reason alone that it is up-to-date on safety
Cribs with high corner posts (greater than a sixteenth inch or one-and
a-half mm) can catch an infant's clothing and cause strangulation.
Manufacturers have voluntarily stopped designing cribs with elevated,
decorative corner-posts because of this danger. Many such cribs are still
being passed around to family members and friends or sold in garage sales and
used furniture stores. If your infant's crib has elevated corner posts and
you prefer not to purchase another, saw them off and sand the edges down. If
you cannot correct the defects, destroy such a crib rather than sell it. Do
this to protect other infants in your community.
Cribs on Rollers
Cribs on rollers can be dangerous if older children are in the home.
Playful siblings, who might be inclined to push a crib around, could tip it
over or push it down a flight of stairs. Also, by leaning against a wheeled
crib you might inadvertently shove it away from you. Hardwood floors allow
for easy rolling with such cribs so be extra careful here, too. Obviously a
crib without any wheels is the safest way to go. Look for a crib with
casters that can lock the wheels and prevent rolling, or better yet , get a
crib with no wheels at all.
Crib Mattresses & Mattress Covers
The two most important qualities in a crib mattress are firmness and fit.
A firm mattress is necessary in order to minimize the risk of suffocation.
If a mattress is too soft it can allow an infant's mouth and nose to be
engulfed in the fabric. An infant could then be at risk for re-breathing his
own exhaled air that is high in carbon dioxide and low in oxygen, leading to
extreme drowsiness, coma or even death. Soft mattresses have been
responsible for some deaths that were initially attributed to SIDS. This is
part of the reason your baby should not sleep face down. Always place your
infant face up when he sleeps.
Mattress Size: A mattress should fit snugly against each side of the
crib. A mattress that does not properly fit the crib can pose a risk to an
infant who might crawl beneath it. If you can fit two side-by-side fingers
between the side of the crib and the mattress, the mattress is too small.
The standard mattress size is 51 5/8" x 27 1/4". Be sure your baby's
mattress fits his crib.
Mattress Hangers: Mattress hangers support the floor of the crib and
can be used to lower or raise the mattress to a desired height. As your
infant grows taller, you will need to lower the floor of the crib to prevent
him from climbing out. Be sure each hanger is always securely fastened to
the corners of the crib.
Bumper Pads: Mattress bumper pads are soft cushions that fit around
the inside of a crib and help prevent your baby from hitting his head against
the crib bars. Secure all bumper pads to the crib and cut the strings as
short as possible after being tied. This will eliminate the danger of
strangulation. Once your infant can pull himself up, remove all pads and
crib toys, to keep him from standing on them in attempts to climb from the
Mattress Covers: Mattress covers have also been associated with
suffocation injuries. Be sure the mattress cover in your crib is made of a
tough material that cannot be torn or punctured. This will prevent your
infant from crawling beneath. Never use plastic garbage bags as mattress
covers. They are much too weak. Tie into knots and discard any plastic
wrapping material that came with your new crib. Several suffocation deaths
have been caused by wrapping material that was left lying around.
Crib Cushions, Quilts & Comforters
Crib accessories such as cushions, quilts and comforters with their
bright colors and designs can certainly beautify any room. They may seem
harmless at first, but the dangers they pose to infants are very real.
Nearly 2,000 cases of infant suffocation each year are caused by cushions,
quilts and comforters. Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission
placed a manufacturing and sales ban on crib cushions, crib pillows and crib
comforters. Never place cushions, quilts and comforters in your baby's crib.
So, what can you put in your infant's crib? Limit what you put in
your baby's crib to small, age-appropriate toys, a crib bumper that is
properly secured and a pacifier. If you dress him in a cozy, warm body suit
you will only need a lightweight cotton blanket to keep him warm. Such
blankets are porous and present the least risk of smothering a baby. When
using a light blanket, tuck it around the mattress at the foot of the bed
allowing it only to cover up to your baby's chest. The safest bet, however,
is to use sleepwear rather than a blanket.
Using Your Crib Correctly
No matter how sturdy and well built, a crib is only as safe as the
parents who use it. Keep crib safety in mind and remember a few basic rules.
- Always raise the crib sides to full height and lock them when your infant is
- If a drop-side does not have a locking, hand-operated latch, replace it.
- Once your infant is able to sit unassisted, adjust the floor of the crib to
a lower position. And when he can stand put the floor in it's lowest
position in order to prevent him from climbing out.
- Avoid placing large toys and pillows in your baby's crib. They might just
enable him to climb out.
- When your child reaches a height of 32 to 35 inches (usually about two years
of age), he should no longer sleep in a crib, because it may no longer hold
him. Your toddler could outgrow a crib due to his size or activity level
well before reaching this height, so pay attention to his physical abilities
and look for signs that he may be learning to escape. For instance, if he
can pull herself up off the crib floor by grabbing the crib sides or if he
can climb up the sides, he is too big and strong for a crib. When this
occurs, he should then begin sleeping in a toddler bed.
The location of your baby's crib is of extreme importance. It is
tempting to move the crib next to a large piece of furniture so diapers,
clothing and other accessories are close by. However, placing a crib next to
a dresser or other piece of furniture puts your infant at risk of getting
wedged in between the two pieces of furniture if he climbs from the crib.
This same type of injury can also occur if a crib is placed against a wall.
Another dangerous location for a crib is next to a long drapery cord.
Strangulation injury can occur when a crib is situated too close to any type
of window dressing pull cord.
- Pull your crib at least one foot away from all furniture and walls.
- Never place your baby's crib next to a drapery or window blind cord.
Frequent inspections of your baby's crib will help you identify wear and
tear before an injury occurs.
- Periodically check the slats and end-boards to be sure they are not loose
and check all nuts and bolts, tightening them when necessary.
- Be sure no screws or nails are protruding from the wood as they can catch
your baby's clothing or scratch his skin.
- If your crib has defects that cannot be fixed, dismantle it and throw it
away. This will prevent it from being used by another family. Never sell a
bad crib. The few dollars you gain will not be worth the injury that may be
caused to somebody else's baby.
Written by Mark A. Brandenburg, MD, author of CHILD SAFE: A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries. CHILD SAFE is also a terrific gift for grandparents, nannies, baby sitters and all other child care providers. Dr. Brandenburg is an Emergency Physician at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Board Certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM).