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Cribs

Crib buying guide

Last updated: February 2014

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Getting started

A crib may seem like a big place to put your tiny newborn, but it's the safest place for her to sleep. While some parents use a cradle, bassinet, or bedside sleeper for the first few months, you can save money and worry by sticking with a crib. They're regulated by the federal government, and many are also certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). There are currently no federal standards for co-sleepers or Moses baskets. (While some bassinets are certified by the JPMA, many are not.) Steer clear of Moses baskets and bedside sleepers (sometimes called co-sleepers), since there are concerns about their safety.

A crib is one baby item you definitely want to buy new. That's the only way to be sure you'll get one that meets the latest safety standards. We recommend you purchase a JPMA-certified, full-sized crib with stationary sides. This guide will help you find the perfect one so the whole family can rest easy.

Basic is best

The safest cribs have simple lines and no scrollwork or finials. Infants can strangle if their clothing gets caught in such detail work. Following this advice will get you a safer crib and save you money. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for full-sized and portable cribs as of 2011 required the elimination of drop-side models, which have been connected to at least 32 deaths during a few years prior. (Drop-side cribs let parents raise and lower one side to get the baby out. They are no longer considered safe.) The standards also include rigorous new durability testing and require improved warnings and labeling. Consumer Reports' tests, which are based on the new mandatory safety standards, address such issues as mattress support, slat strength, and structural integrity.

Buy new

If possible, avoid buying or accepting a used crib. Older models might not meet current safety standards or might be in disrepair. By law, the production date of a crib must be displayed on it and on its shipping carton.

Still, be on the lookout for safety hazards. Even when you're buying a new one, bring a ruler with you when you shop to check the spaces between the slats and other places on the crib. If they're greater than 2 3/8 inches wide, they're too far apart. If you buy a crib online, measure any openings immediately when it arrives at your home.

Check for sharp edges and protruding screws, nuts, corner posts, decorative knobs, and other pieces that could catch your baby's clothing at the neck. Buying a new crib could protect your baby from such hidden dangers as drop sides, slats, or hardware that might have been weakened by rough use, as well as loose hardware or glue joints caused by changes in humidity during storage.

Check construction and workmanship

One or more stabilizer bars--metal rods fastened to both end boards beneath the crib--can help to make the frame more rigid. 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 tightly assembled. Without applying excessive pressure, try rotating each slat to see if it's well secured to the railings. You shouldn't find loose slats or spindles on a new crib, or any cracking if they're made of wood.

Buy the mattress at the same time

Pair the mattress and crib you plan to buy to make sure they're a good fit. (Mattresses are typically sold separately.) By law, a mattress used in a full-sized 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.

Make sure to check all the hardware carefully when your crib is assembled, and periodically 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 support attachments regularly to make sure none of them are bent or broken. If you move a crib, double-check that all support hangers (which hold the mattress up) are secure.

Use the proper sheets

When buying a mattress, make sure you also buy crib sheets designed to fit tightly. If a sheet isn't the correct fit, your baby might pull it up and become entangled. Hand-me-down sheets can be great, but make sure the elastic at the corners is still strong. Test the sheet, whether new or used, by pulling up on each corner to make sure it doesn't pop off the mattress corner. You can buy sheets separately, but you'll find that many bedding sets come with bumper pads. If you get a bumper, toss it right in the trash because they can be a suffocation hazard for your baby. Resist the urge to put those adorable stuffed animals in the crib for the same reason. Blankets, quilts, and pillows also pose a suffocation hazard and should not be used in the crib. Instead keep your baby comfortably warm and safe in a swaddle wrap or wearable blanket.

Arrange for assembly

Cribs are shipped unassembled, so if you're not sure you can put one together correctly (it's usually a two-person job that requires up to an hour from unpacking to complete assembly), ask a handy friend or relative for help or see if the retailer can send people to assemble it in your home. The latter can cost an extra $70 or more, but it can give you peace of mind. Besides saving tempers and fingers, having people sent by the store to set up your crib allows you to inspect it on the spot and reject it if you discover flaws. Assemble the crib or have it assembled where your baby will be sleeping initially. (We think it's safest for babies to sleep in the same room as their parents for the first 6 months.) Once the crib is put together, it might not fit through a small doorway, and you might need to disassemble and reassemble it in your baby's nursery 6 months later. That's inconvenient, 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 let you adjust the mattress height; some have three levels, some have more. The higher levels make it easier to take your infant out of the crib, but they're 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 can help your little escape artist climb out, which is another reason they don't belong in the crib.

Place your baby's crib away from windows, window blinds, wall hangings, curtains, toys, and furniture so that he can't get to anything dangerous. Make sure any baby monitors (and cords) are also out of reach.

For safety's sake, watch your child's development closely and stop using a crib as soon as he 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.

Types

Crib prices range from about $100 to more than $3,000 for custom models. Here's what you'll find at various price points.

Economy cribs


Manufacturers might use less-expensive materials and hardware, and simpler finishes and designs, but these models can be adequate. They tend to be lighter in weight than more expensive cribs. Paint or a lacquer-like finish might cover cosmetic wood defects, such as knots and variations in shading.

You might notice minor finishing flaws, such as poorly sanded spots, uneven patches of paint, and nail heads or glue residue at the base of the slats. The important thing is that when you shake the crib, it should be sturdy and not rattle.

Mid-priced cribs


You'll find a lot of choices in this price range. These models are sturdier and more decorative than the economy models. They come in an array of wood finishes, such as Scandinavian-style natural, golden maple, or deep mahogany. End boards are usually solid with a smooth finish, and many models have slats on all sides. Slats are thicker than those of economy models and can be round or flat with rounded edges. The mattress supports on these models tend to be sturdy and the springs heavier.

Locking wheels or casters (sometimes optional) provide stability. There also might be one or two stabilizer bars--metal rods that extend between the two end rods--running underneath for greater rigidity. The best-made cribs in this category will have no exposed nails or glue residue where the slats are fastened to the rails, and a uniform finish. Some might have storage drawers.

In this price range, you'll easily find cribs that can be converted to other types of beds. One type, often called a 3-in-1 crib, converts to a daybed and/or a full-sized bed. A typical daybed has two side panels and a back panel, and can be used as a sofa or a small bed. When converted to a full-size bed, you use the long sides of the crib as the headboard and footboard, although in some cases just the headboard piece will work.

You'll also find 4-in-1 cribs that convert to a toddler bed, a daybed, and a full-sized bed. For a toddler bed, you often need to purchase a separate rail that runs along the side to keep your child from rolling off. The most versatile cribs can become a toddler bed, a full-sized bed, and a love seat.

High-end cribs


Many of these models are imported from Europe (though they may have been manufactured in China or elsewhere) and have hand-rubbed, glazed, or burnished finishes. You'll see styles with curved end boards and hand-painted details, models handcrafted from wrought iron, and even round or oval cribs. (Round cribs are still very much a novelty, and they're not covered under the federal full-size crib regulations. (Never mind the hassle of trying to find round or oval crib sheets that fit properly!) Instead, round cribs fall under the regulations for play yards and non-full-size cribs. We believe that for sleeping, your baby is safest in a standard, full-sized crib. Play yards and the like are okay for naps, or short-term use on a trip, but invest in a crib for every-night use.

Some manufacturers will let you order a custom-made crib to match your nursery. (Learn more about the safety concerns with protruding finials and design elements on cribs in Crib safety tips.)

Mattresses on high-end cribs are usually supported by heavier-gauge springs and metal frames. Like some mid- or low-priced cribs, these cribs might include a drawer and convert to a daybed/toddler bed or other nursery furniture.

You'll also find custom-made regular and convertible cribs sold as part of a nursery suite, and a "fairy-tale" canopy might be part of the ensemble. Don't use the canopy, because it could collapse onto the crib. (And it's a dust collector.) A simple unadorned crib is the safest for your baby.

There's a wide variety of custom-made cribs at the high end, but they're unlikely to be certified.

Portable cribs


Some parents like to use a play yard. (See our play yard buying advice and tips for using them safely.) Others use a portable crib.

A play yard is very compact and can be a great alternative when you're traveling, since you never know whether a hotel will provide a safe crib. Choose one that is JPMA-certified, and read the owner's manual thoroughly.

Unlike a play yard, a portable crib is similar to a regular crib, just smaller. For one thing, they aren't as long as full-sized cribs. Some are certified by JPMA. Some people opt for a portable crib if they live in a small apartment, or if they need something to take along to the grandparents'. Keep in mind that you'll need to buy a mattress and sheets specifically for this smaller crib. It's always best to use sheets that are provided with the portable crib or made by the same manufacturer, or a sheet that the crib manufacturer has designated as acceptable for use with their crib.

Features


Some features are important for child safety, while others might make things more convenient or aesthetically pleasing, depending on your style.

Do not buy drop sides


Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for full-sized and portable cribs require the elimination of models with "drop-sides" that can be lowered for taking your baby out. Drop sides have been linked to at least 32 deaths over the past decade. The standards also include rigorous new durability testing and require improved warnings and labeling. If you used a drop-side for a child and had planned to reuse it for a younger sibling, don't. Your child is safer in a crib with stationary sides.

Single drop gates


A single drop gate, also called a single folding side, lets you lower a small portion of the crib's side instead of the entire side. This avoids the safety hazard of a full drop side, while still making it easier to get your baby out.

Mattress height

Full-sized cribs have at least two mattress-height positions; some even have three or four. To prevent your baby from falling over the side of the crib, adjust the mattress support to its lowest height as soon as she can sit or pull up, usually between 6 and 8 months of age. Many models don't require tools for adjusting mattress height, while in some models screws or bolts may be hard to reach. The distance between the mattress support (in its lowest position) and the top of the crib rail should be at least 26 inches. Check before using the crib.

Mattress supports


Most mattress supports consist of a metal frame suspended by stiff springs. In some cribs, the mattress support is a one-piece board; in others, it's just metal hangers screwed into a wooden frame that support a spring-wire grid frame, or a grid of wood slats.

The mattress supports are adjustable so the mattress can be raised or lowered for the child's safety. Mattress supports should be held securely in place so they can't be dislodged when you're changing a crib sheet, if baby starts bouncing, or when a child or large pet pushes up from underneath.

Sides and railings


Crib sides are comprised of bars (or spindles or slats) fitted into holes in the top and bottom rails, then secured with glue and often one or two nails. The small holes made by the nails are usually filled and covered with a finish to make them almost invisible. A mandatory safety standard requires that crib slats be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. You should measure with a ruler before buying or using a crib to be sure it meets that standard. Corner posts or finials should be either less than 1/16 of an inch high or more than 16 inches high to avoid the possibility of a child's clothing catching on it.

Teething rails

These are smooth, plastic coverings for the top of the side rails to protect the crib and the gums and teeth of little ones who like to gnaw on the crib's rails. Teething rails should be built to stay in place and not crack or break.

Wheels/casters


Many cribs come with plastic or metal furniture caster wheels that swivel and make it easy to move the crib around. But if you have your eye on a model without wheels, don't change your mind just because you're planning to move the crib out of your room into a nursery when your baby turns 6 months. Cribs are too wide to fit through standard doorways, so you're going to have to disassemble it anyway to make the move.

If you'll be using a crib with casters on a bare wood or tile floor, be sure to buy a model with casters that lock. This will prevent the crib from "walking" across the room from baby's momentum and also keep other children from taking your baby on a joy ride.

Convertibility


A convertible crib can come in handy when you want to transition your child to a toddler bed. Many of them can be switched to a toddler bed by simply removing one side and adding a rail.

Some parents report that the change from a crib to a toddler bed is so small that toddlers have an easier time making the transition. Also keep in mind that some convertible beds require parts that sometimes aren't included in the original purchase, such as bed rails, stabilizing rails, or support rails (for converting to a full-sized bed).

A key difference between converting a crib into a daybed vs. a toddler bed is the rail for toddlers, which helps keep them from rolling to the floor. If you want to stretch your investment, some models will even convert to a full-sized bed frame. But you'll still need to buy a full mattress, and as we said, possibly other rails and supports. One long side of the crib will become the headboard, and in some cases the other long side will become the footboard.

Bottom drawer

Some models include a drawer or two under the mattress support structure. Most roll out from under the crib. Some cribs have a set of drawers attached to the short end of the unit. Before buying, pull any drawer all the way out to inspect its construction. You might find that it has a thin, cardboard-like bottom that could bend and give way when loaded with linens or clothing. A bottom made of a harder material, such as fiberboard, will hold up better.

Construction materials

Most cribs are made of wood, but other types of materials are used as well. Dark wood finishes are available, but you can also find cribs in lighter stains such as natural woods, oaks, maples, or classic white. Painted finishes include off-whites, washed whites (revealing the wood's grain), and pastel green, blue, pink, or yellow. A little roughness in the finish isn't a problem as long as there are no serious defects, such as splintering or peeling paint.

Brands


AP Industries

A Canadian company founded in 1950.  It manufactures bedroom furniture for babies, kids, and adults.  Its crib offerings range from modern to the traditional.  They can be found at specialty stores and online.
www.apindustries.com

Baby Cache

Founded in 2005, this company makes nursery furniture that is sold exclusively at Babies "R" Us.  Styles and prices vary.
www.babycache.com

 

Baby Mod

Manufactured by Million Dollar Baby and sold exclusively at Walmart.com.  This brand, like its name implies, offers really modern baby furniture and at a very affordable price.
www.walmart.com

Baby's Dream

Since 1990, this Georgia-based company has been making nursery furniture and was the first to manufacture convertible cribs. Baby’s Dream’s line of products includes midpriced safety-gate, solid back panel, and convertible cribs, changing tables, dressers, conversion rails, and more. The company does not mass merchandise to box stores, so check its website for retailers near you.
www.babysdream.com

Bassett

A division of Bassett Furniture that sells its wares at large chain stores such as Babies "R" Us, Baby Depot, Sears, Target, and Walmart. Bassett manufactures cribs in the midprice range. This century-old company currently operates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada, and its products—dressers, chests, and more—are available wherever juvenile products are sold and online.
www.bassettbaby.com
www.bassettfurniture.com

Bellini

Bellini sells cribs exclusively in its stores. The company has been in the baby business for more than 25 years, with more than 45 retail locations nationwide. The cribs tend to be in the high-end range.
http://www.bellini.com

Bonavita

Established in 1995 by the New Jersey-based LaJobi Inc., Bonavita introduced the first “Lifestyle” crib in 2001—the first single crib that could be easily converted to a toddler, day, and full-sized bed. Its cribs, dressers, armoires, nightstands, and hutches are available at specialty stores. www.bonavita.com

Child Craft Industries

This company makes Child Craft and Legacy brands. Founded in 1911 in Salem, Ind., Child Craft remains a family-owned American company. Its cribs, dressers, and changing tables are available wherever baby products are sold, online, and through mass retailers such as Walmart.
www.child-craft.com.com

DaVinci

Part of the Million Dollar Baby (MDB) group, this family-owned company makes affordable cradles, cribs, convertible cribs, changing tables, dressers, and other nursery furniture. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.davincidecor.com

Delta

Delta has been in the business for 45 years, and makes Delta cribs and Simmons cribs. In 1954, its founder, Louis Shamie, became a first-time parent. Finding himself inspired by the new wonders of parenting, Shamie founded Delta Children's Products, which was incorporated in 1967. Today, the company makes strollers, bassinets, play yards, toddler furniture, and several styles of cribs. Most of the company's cribs are in the economy and midpriced range, and can be found at mass retailers such as Baby Depot, Babies "R" Us, and Target.
www.deltachildren.com

Ikea

In the 1980s, this Swedish company expanded to the U.S. Ikea carries its own brand of cribs, which are priced in the economy range. Its cribs, crib mattresses, changing tables, high chairs, and other juvenile products are available online, by catalog, or in Ikea stores.
www.ikea.com/us

La Jobi

Makers of Babi Italia, Europa Baby, Bonavita, Graco, and Nursery 101, La Jobi was established in 1994. In the U.S., its products are sold in more than 2,000 retail outlets and online. Graco (the economy brand) is sold at Babies "R" Us and online. The midpriced Babi Italia and Europa Baby brands are available at Babies "R" Us and Baby Depot, respectively. Bonavita, a higher-end brand is sold at specialty retailers.
http://www.lajobi.com/

Land of Nod

Originally founded in 1996 by 2 friends.  Their furniture was originally sold via catalog only.  In 2000 they joined the Crate and Barrel family and have since introduced walk-in stores. Their furniture is midpriced and available exclusively at Land of Nod stores or through their website.
www.landofnod.com

Million Dollar Baby

This company (maker of Million Dollar Baby, Da Vinci, Babyletto, and Nurseryworks products) was established in 1989. It offers low-, mid-, and high-end cribs in its collection, which is sold in mass and specialty retailers.
www.milliondollarbaby.com

Pottery Barn Kids

Pottery Barn Kids (part of the Williams-Sonoma company) sells its brand of cribs in the high-end price range. The cribs can be purchased at Pottery Barn Kids stores, and a larger selection is available online or by catalog.
www.potterybarnkids.com

Simmons

The Atlanta-based Simmons Company is one of the world's largest mattress manufacturers, with a broad range of products, including Beautyrest, BackCare, Olympic Queen, and Deep Sleep mattresses. The children's mattress lineup includes Simmons Kids, BackCare Baby, and BackCare Kids. Its cribs, mattresses, dressers, and other juvenile furniture are available at Toys "R" Us, Babies "R" Us, Baby Depot, and BuyBuy Baby.
www.simmonskids.com

Sorelle

A division of C&T International, Sorelle has been in the baby business for more than 30 years. Its furniture is sold in specialty stores and online, with cribs ranging in price from mid to high.
http://www.sorellefurniture.com

Stork Craft

In business for more than 60 years, Stork Craft has its headquarters in Canada. It offers mostly low- and midpriced cribs that are sold at mass and online retailers.
storkcraftdirect.com

Westwood Design

This Utah-based company designs and manufactures high-end cribs, including convertible cribs, and dressers. Check the company’s website for a retailer near you. www.westwoodbaby.com

Young America

Young America products are made in the USA by Stanley Furniture Company, an American manufacturer with an 86-year heritage. Its products include cribs, beds, changing tables, armoires, bookcases, and other bedroom furniture. It sells high-end cribs available at department and furniture stores, and at BuyBuyBaby in the Northeast.
www.youngamerica.com

Crib safety

Never use an antique or used crib or bassinet

It may be missing pieces and could collapse or fail in some other way. Some older cribs have ornaments like finials or cutouts in the headboard or footboard that could entrap a child's head, neck, arms, or legs, or snag his clothing. And that heirloom crib may look lovely but could contain lead paint.

Even if an old crib is in good shape, more-stringent safety standards put in place in 2000 and 2010 mean that the safest cribs are the newest ones. A crib should be the one place you feel comfortable leaving your child alone. As a result of many reported infant deaths, the federal guidelines from 2010 have banned all drop-side cribs from being sold. If you have one, we strongly recommend buying a new crib. If you absolutely must keep a drop-side crib, don't use the drop-side feature.

Check slat spacing

The slats in a crib or bassinet should be no farther apart than 2 3/8 inches. If you can fit a can of soda between them, the opening is too large. You are more likely to find this problem in an older crib, but you can't be too safe when it comes to your baby. Check any crib you're thinking about buying or even one you plan to use for just a night. If you find you've purchased a crib that's unsafe, you should return it and report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at www.cpsc.gov.

Check the condition of the crib's paint

If your crib is painted, make sure the paint isn't chipped or peeling.

Check the crib for splinters

Look for cracks, splinters, rough edges, exposed nails heads or points, or other hazards that could harm your baby.

Remove decorations

If your bassinet has ribbons or bows, remove them. Any decoration your child can put into his mouth is a choking hazard.

Check corner posts

If you're considering a crib that has corner posts or finial knobs, they should stand at least 16 inches above the crib's end panels so that a child can't reach the top and get her pajamas caught. If the corner posts or finials are shorter than this, they should be no more than 1/16 of an inch higher than the crib ends or side panels. If you are using an older crib, unscrew or saw off the corner posts, then sand the crib to eliminate splinters and sharp corners.

Bare is best

Keep your child's crib free of loose fabric and cushy or puffy surfaces, including blankets, pillows, comforters, quilts, crib bumpers, and stuffed toys. The crib should contain just a tight-fitting mattress with a snugly-fitted crib sheet, and your child, dressed in sleepwear that's appropriate for the season. Don't overdress your baby; if you find the room temperature comfortable, your baby should, too, if he's dressed in similar-weight clothing.

Don't use crib bumpers. Many people use them because they come with crib bedding sets and because they worry about infants hitting their heads on the crib railing. Your child can't hurt himself if he comes in contact with the railing, but he can suffocate in bumpers (or any excess bedding) if he nestles his face up against it. If this happens, the child can "rebreathe" his own carbon dioxide rather than breathing in oxygen-rich fresh air. The lack of oxygen can cause death.

A study from Washington University's department of pediatrics in St. Louis, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed three U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission databases for deaths related to crib bumpers from 1985 through 2005. It found that 27 children from 1 month to 2 years died from suffocation or strangulation related to bumper pads or their ties.

Don't use a sleep positioner or wedge

Some positioners are meant to keep a baby from rolling over so they can only sleep on their back. Experts don't consider these safe. Some babies can roll over even when they're propped up by a positioner.

There are also wedge-shaped pieces of foam intended to help babies sleep on their backs or to keep their heads and backs slightly elevated. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that no sleep positioner has been tested sufficiently to show that they are effective or safe.

Some parents consider wedges because their babies have acid reflux and they want to prop them up. "The FDA and the CPSC have a ban on using anti-reflux wedges, but they are still on the market," cautions Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist at York Hospital in Pennsylvania, who's on the American Academy of Pediatrics' SIDS Task Force. "It's unfortunate, because there is a danger with positioners and wedges." A baby can slip out, Goodstein points out, or put his face up against one, which can lead to suffocation.

Parents concerned about congestion or reflux should talk with their pediatrician about alternative ways to remedy the condition.

Check hardware

Routinely examine the screws and bolts in your baby's crib to ensure that nothing is loose, missing, or damaged. Crib hardware can loosen over time and might need occasional tightening. If anything is missing or broken, contact the manufacturer for replacement parts. Never try to make due with a temporary fix.

Check mattress supports

Make sure the components that support the crib mattress aren't bent, broken, or coming apart. Be sure the mattress is secure and isn't in danger of falling. If it's suspended on hangers attached to hooks on the end panels, check regularly to make sure they're still connected. A handy time to look is when you're changing the crib sheet.

Use the proper fitted sheet

They should be made to fit the mattress in your crib, bassinet, or play yard. If they aren't the correct fit, your baby may pull them up, become entangled, and even suffocate. Test sheets by pulling up on each corner to make sure they don't easily pop off or come off.

Make sure the mattress fits

Put your baby to sleep on her back on a firm mattress that fits tightly into the crib. There shouldn't be any gaps or openings between the crib and the mattress because a baby can get trapped in the smallest of spaces. A full-sized crib has interior dimensions of 28 inches by 52 inches, and the mattress should be 27 1/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches and no more than 6 inches thick. If you can place more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib frame, the fit isn't snug enough and there's a risk of head entrapment.

Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University, says parents shouldn't worry about their baby's mattress being too firm. "We don't want to see people put pillows under the mattress," he says. "People feel like the mattress is too hard, but it is supposed to be hard. People are worried about comfort. But you shouldn't put a different mattress in that creates a gap where the baby can get entrapped." Goodstein says you should never add a mattress to an existing one either.

Adjust the mattress to the right height

Most cribs offer between two and four levels. The higher levels make it easier to take your newborn or very young infant out of the crib, but they become dangerous when your child is able to pull herself to a standing position. Before your child even reaches that stage--around 6 months--the mattress should be down to its lowest setting. In addition to being suffocation hazards, bumper pads and large toys can help your little escape artist climb out, another reason they don't belong in a crib.

Avoid recalled cribs

Complete and mail in product registration cards so the company can contact you directly in the event of a recall. You can also sign up for automatic e-mail recall notifications from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. Most recent recalls have involved drop-side cribs or problems with hardware.

Inspect hotel cribs

When reserving a crib or a play yard at a hotel, try to find out the make and model number before your arrival, so you can check whether it has been recalled. Before you use it, look thoroughly for loose screws or missing parts, and be sure the slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. Make sure the sheet is designed for the crib or the play yard and isn't just a bed sheet that has been tucked underneath. Best bet: Bring your own portable crib or play yard and your own sheet.

Remember, even if you bring your own play yard, you should still take precautions.

Safe-sleeping tips

Think "back to sleep"

To reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation, place your baby to sleep on his back (unless your pediatrician advises otherwise) in a crib that meets all safety standards. "The numbers don't lie," says Michael H. Goodstein, a neonatologist on the SIDS Task Force of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Since we started the ‘back to sleep' campaign in 1994 we have seen over a 50 percent reduction in SIDS deaths in less than 10 years." Back sleeping prevents rebreathing, a sometimes fatal condition 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, and dies. In addition to not putting your baby down on his tummy to sleep, Goodstein says parents shouldn't lay their baby on his side either, since he could roll onto his stomach.

Don't sleep with your baby

In addition to the risk that you might roll onto your baby, adult beds pose other hazards. For example, your movements during sleep could push your baby into becoming trapped between the bed and a wall, headboard, bed frame, or other object, or might even push him off the bed. Accidental suffocation in soft bedding, or by a parent rolling on top of a baby, is another danger. If you breast-feed your baby in bed, be sure to return her to the crib afterward.

Goodstein says experts want babies to be close to their parents, but separate. "Babies should not sleep with adults, other children, or pets," he says. "This is not an antibreastfeeding or bonding message. As long as a parent is awake and not drowsing and wants to cuddle or breast-feed, that's fine. But once they get tired, the baby needs to be moved back to an appropriate sleep surface."

Consider using a pacifier at naptime and bedtime

Several studies have reported evidence that using a pacifier might reduce the risk of SIDS. If your baby is breast-fed, wait until she's a month old to let her use a pacifier to ensure that breast-feeding is firmly established. But if your baby doesn't like a pacifier, don't force her to take it. Goodstein says it's all right if the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth. "Let it stay out," he says. "And don't coat it in sweet stuff." He says there's no consensus on when to wean babies from pacifiers, but it won't hurt their growing teeth unless they are still using it at age 3.

The best way to breast-feed

Goodstein says a recent study found up to a 75 percent protective effect against SIDS if babies are breast-fed exclusively. "Even if you do it partially, there is still protection," he adds. "We want babies to breast-feed. But don't do it on a couch or rocking chair if you are really tired, because there are SIDS cases that happen there." The danger, he explains, comes from moms falling asleep and babies getting wedged into soft cushions where they can't breathe. Goodstein says the safest thing to do is to feed your baby and then put her in her crib.

Use a baby monitor if your baby sleeps where you can't hear her

This will alert you to any difficulty before it becomes a problem. Goodstein cautions parents, however, that using a monitor won't prevent SIDS. (See our baby monitors buying guide.)

Don't use an electric blanket, heating pad, or even a warm-water bottle to heat your baby's crib

An infant's skin is highly sensitive to heat and can be burned by temperatures that are comfortable to an adult.

Don't dress your baby too warmly

Overheating might contribute to SIDS. Keep the temperature in your baby's room between 68 degrees F and 72 degrees F. Your baby shouldn't feel hot to the touch.

Change your baby's head position

To reduce the risk of plagiocephaly, or flat-head syndrome, in which a baby develops a flat spot on the back of her head, make sure your newborn isn't always looking in the same direction. A baby in a crib tends to turn her head so she can look out toward the room, not the wall. Knowing that, today you can place her in the crib so that her feet are where her head was yesterday, and change positions the next day. The risk of plagiocephaly lessens as babies get older, so changing head position is especially important to do in your baby's first 2 to 4 months. You can also change items around the room so they have different things to look at.

Let your baby sleep unencumbered

Don't wrap your bundle of joy in blankets or comforters when he's in a crib. He can quickly become entangled and--unable to free himself--suffocate. Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed animals and dolls don't belong in a bassinet or crib. And remember that babies can quickly overheat. Put your baby to sleep in lightweight clothes and set the thermostat to a comfortable 70 degrees F. If it's cold, try putting your baby in a cozy zippered sleep sack or foot pajamas. Goodstein says that if you're worried that your baby is too warm, you should feel his chest or the back of his neck. If he's hot and sweaty, the room temperature should be cooler.

Use safe sleepwear

It should fit snugly and be made of flame-resistant fabric. There should be no drawstrings, ribbons, or anything else that might catch on something. Buttons and snaps should be firmly attached to avoid becoming a choking hazard.

Remove the bottle

You might think that the comfort of a bottle or sippy cup in a crib will help your child fall asleep. Don't do this! Bottle nipples suffer from wear and tear over time and a small piece can break off and get caught in a baby's throat. And sleeping with a bottle or cup can also cause tooth decay and lead to ear infections.

Crib mobiles are for looking at, not for touching

Make sure your little one can't reach a mobile so he won't become entangled in any string or pull off any small pieces. When he's able to push himself up on his hands and knees, the mobile should be removed from the crib. And don't add any suspended toys on your own; only use those provided with the mobile.

Skip the crib gym

The safest crib is one free of play gyms and other toys that stretch across it with strings, cords, or ribbons. They can be dangerous for older or more active babies.

What to do when your baby starts rolling over

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be placed on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If your baby starts rolling onto his tummy when he's sleeping, which is an important developmental milestone, put him back on his back.

But don't feel compelled to check on him throughout the night to make sure he hasn't rolled over. You need your sleep, too. Instead, accept the reality that he might end up on his tummy, but remain diligent about keeping your baby's crib free of any toys, soft bedding, and other items. Babies who are able to roll over can move around even more and scoot near a crib bumper or get a blanket wrapped around their head.

   

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