How to Buy: A Crib

Get the 411 on everything you need to know when it comes to choosing the perfect crib.

How to Buy: A Crib

By Paula Kashtan for TheBump.comThe Bump

Even if you choose to start out with a bassinet or a bedside sleeper, every baby eventually needs a crib. Here’s how to make sure baby sleeps safe and sound in theirs, no matter when they start to use it.

General Bedtime Safety

Make sure baby's room is well-ventilated. Evidence shows this helps prevent SIDS.

Err on the side of a cooler room -- this promotes better respiratory stimulation in baby.

Room setup
Keep baby’s crib or bassinet away from blinds or drapery, which are strangulation hazards.

Whatever product you buy should be safety certified by the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association. 

Baby should always be put to bed on her back -- this is the safest position for SIDS prevention.

While a soft, quilted mattress might sound comfy, it actually poses a suffocation risk for baby. Look for a firm mattress, which will also better support her back.

General Crib Recommedations

Use the manual! If it’s shaky when you’re done or there are any leftover pieces you’re not quite sure what to do with, you missed or botched a step somewhere. Keep trying until you have a steady crib, and don’t be shy about using the customer service line.

Make sure your crib is low enough to the ground so that you can reach in and get baby out without trouble. (The exact height that’s most appropriate depends on how tall you are.)

Lowering feature
This adjustment lets you lower the mattress as baby grows, so that she continues to be safe in the crib while keeping you from needing to reach down farther than necessary to pick her up. Not all cribs include this feature, but it’s nice to have (as long as it’s easy to adjust correctly).

Side bars no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (about the width of a soda can) will keep baby’s body from sliding out and getting stuck.

Corner posts
Anything higher than 1/16 of an inch is too high -- baby’s clothing could get caught on it.

Convertible options
Some cribs can later transform into toddler and even full-size beds. Just be sure you actually like how the product looks in its future form if you go this route. 

Mattress fit
The mattress needs to fit tightly in the crib so that baby doesn’t accidentally get caught between the two. If you can get more than two fingers between the mattress and the sides of the crib, the mattress is too small.

The only bedding baby needs is a waterproof pad and a soft, tightly fitted bottom sheet. Knit cotton, flannel, and high-count woven cotton are good options for fabric. Make sure whatever you get is machine-washable, and buy a few extra of each so that you aren’t doing laundry every time baby spits up. Wash the bedding before you first use it to remove any potential skin-irritating chemicals left over from the manufacturing process. After that, wash weekly or whenever baby spits up, pees, or otherwise soils the bedding. Use a mild, unscented detergent -- unless baby is especially sensitive, you don’t need specialty baby soap. This lets you streamline the laundry process and use the same detergent for the whole family’s loads, eliminating the need to run special cycles for baby.

These were originally designed for old cribs with wider slats, to keep baby’s head or body from falling out. Since that’s not an issue in modern cribs, bumpers aren’t actually a necessity and can actually cause more problems than they solve. If you do want to use them, though, opt for thin and sturdy bumpers that rise only a few inches above the mattress rather than soft or quilted options, a suffocation hazard. The ties that connect the bumpers to the crib slats can also prove dangerous (strangulation hazard), so make sure to keep them tightly knotted and far from baby’s reach. Ties should be between seven and nine inches long -- anything shorter won’t tie properly, and anything longer creates a higher risk of strangulation. One great new option is breathable mesh bumpers, which don’t require ties and also don’t inhibit the circulation of fresh air at all.

Dust ruffles and bed skirts
If you choose to go with these decorative items, make sure you still vacuum under baby’s bed frequently -- dust mites are very irritating to babies. Wash the bed skirt once a month or so.

Head and foot boards
Stay away from anything with cutouts, because baby’s head could get trapped.

Entertainment devices
Many moms swear by soothing products that clip onto the side rails of cribs like (play!) aquariums or sound machines. Mobiles are also nice to hang above the crib, as long as they’re out of baby’s reach.

Side wedges
These triangle-shaped devices that support baby on either side to keep her on her back make some parents feel safer. While there’s nothing wrong with the wedges when baby’s still a newborn, a tight swaddle is probably a better option. Once baby’s older and more mobile, the triangles will keep her from learning to self-soothe through movement.

Secondhand cribs
It’s especially important to check the safety measures on older cribs, whether they’re family heirlooms or from a resale shop. Check the hinges for stability, and look carefully for any sharp parts or protruding metal. Make sure the wood is smooth and splinter-free, and repaint any cracked or peeling paint. Check older cribs for lead paint, which baby should definitely not be exposed to.

If you have pets, don’t let them get into the crib before baby is born. They may get comfortable and mark it as their territory, which can prove disastrous when baby comes home and the pet tries to jump into the crib. There’s also the obvious (and less dramatic) risk of allergens.

Crib clutter

No blankets, pillows, toys, or stuffed animals should be in the crib -- these all pose suffocation hazards. Keep baby warm with a swaddling blanket, layered clothing or an insulated sleep sack. Just make sure there’s nothing around her face or neck.

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