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Crib safety basics

Babies need plenty of sleep, and during the first couple of months of their lives, they will on average spend more of their time sleeping than awake. If your little one sleeps in a crib, you should consider crib safety. It's worthwhile taking your time to choose the right one. Here is what you need to know about crib safety for your baby. 

Is it safe to use a secondhand crib?

New cribs are quite pricey, which is why going for a secondhand model can seem so appealing. Additionally, a crib that has been passed down through your family can have lots of sentimental appeal. However, secondhand cribs may not be safe, especially if they're more than a decade old. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) set strict standards for crib safety in 2011 for both manufacturers and retailers. These guidelines include stronger crib slats and mattress supports, rigorous safety testing, and durable crib hardware. 

Older cribs don’t meet these standards, which makes them a safety risk. Some of the hazards that older cribs may present include:

  • Splintered wood that may catch on your baby’s clothes
  • A drop-side mechanism. This design feature becomes a problem when the side drops on its own – either because the child is strong enough to force it down or it has become loose from wear and tear. This creates a hazardous gap between the crib slats and the mattress that can trap a child and suffocate them.
  • If it’s an old painted cot, you might need to strip it down and repaint it. Older cots could have been painted with paint containing lead, which is toxic.
  • Any decorative stickers or transfers on the inside of the cot should be removed as they could be a choking hazard.
  • Models with breakages or jagged ends could injure your baby.
  • Older models could also have been recalled for one reason or another.

How do you know your crib is safe?

All the cribs manufactured since 2011 have been required to be in line with the strict safety standards stipulated by the CPSC. That said, it’s considered safe practice to double-check that the crib you want to go for meets these standards. Here are some of the things to keep an eye out for:

  • The corner posts of the crib are smooth

Crib corner posts must be flush with the end panels. If a model has small corner posts, they shouldn’t be more than 1/16th of an inch high. If you intend to go for a used crib with fancy corner post knobs, you’ll need to saw them off and smooth the rough edges before putting it to use.

  • The cot bars

The distance between the bars or slats of the crib should be no more than two-and-three-eighth inches wide (this is about the width of a can of soda) to prevent your little one from getting his/her head caught between them. You should also make sure that none of the slats are cracked or missing.

The cot slats should be vertical; if they’re horizontal, your little one could use them as a foothold to climb out. Many experts also recommend going for a cot with slats on all four sides as it allows the free circulation of air as your baby sleeps.

  • The crib hardware is firmly secured

The hardware in a crib – screws, bolts, etc. – should be firmly secured with no rough spots that can pinch or injure your little one. The entire crib should be sturdy with tight and secure joints.

  • It does not have drop-sides and footboard and headboard cutouts

Steer clear of cribs with end panels that have decorative cutout designs that your curious little one could accidentally get stuck in. You’ll always want to pass on a hand-me-down drop-side crib.

  • The crib mattress should be firm and fit snugly inside

While a cushion-soft surface might seem like a cozy option for babies, it can be dangerous if your crib mattress is soft or saggy. For starters, babies are still developing and their bodies need much more support than those of adults. You may find comfort from a wide range of firmness levels, but for your little one, it's important to keep in mind that firmer is always better. Additionally, a softer mattress increases the risk of your baby’s legs or arms getting stuck between the mattress and the crib.

The mattress should also fit snugly inside the crib. If you’re able to squeeze in more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib, it’s not snug enough.

  • Lowering the crib mattress

In the USA, the minimum distance between the top of the mattress and the top of the crib side rail should be 26 inches. Once your little one can roll over, sit up, or push onto their knees and hands, you'll want to adjust his/her mattress to the middle height. When your little one starts to show any signs of pulling themselves to standing, place the crib mattress at the lowest position to make it harder for him/her to climb out of the crib.

  • The crib shouldn’t contain any soft toys or bedding

Avoid using plush toys or soft bedding in the crib (that includes pillows, duvets, and comforters that may have come with the crib bedding set) because they increase the risk of suffocation and/or strangulation. All you need is a crib sheet, which should fit tightly in all corners of the mattress to prevent your baby from getting caught up in it. If you’re about your baby being called, simply crank up the thermostat (the ideal temperature for infants is between 60.8°F and 688°F)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also advises against using add-ons like sleep positioners, wedges, and bumper pads as they increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Safety practices for portable cribs and bassinets

As with standard cribs, the newest model portable crib or bassinet is strongly recommended. Additional guidelines for mesh-sided cribs include:

  • Mesh should be less than ¼ inch in size
  • Mesh should not have any holes, tears, or loose threads to reduce the risk of entanglement
  • The mesh should be securely attached to the top rail and floor plate

Final thoughts

Picking out the most suitable crib for your little one can take quite a bit of consideration and shopping around. But while you're trying to find the best design, colors, and size, don't forget to consider safety as well. Following the most recent and strictest crib safety guidelines will help your baby sleep more safely.

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