How to buy the right crib checklist

When choosing a crib, there’s more to the idea of raising the bar than just considering a single or double-drop railing. In the first three years of life, babies will spend more unsupervised time in their cribs than anywhere else. Though this major purchase can be daunting considering all the features and models currently on the market, safety should always trump style.

Whether you have 100 or 1,000 bucks to burn, don’t head to the store without this list of useful check points, many courtesy of Andrea Garces, coordinator for Safe Kids Chicago, a part of the Injury Prevention Research Center/Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital:

  • User-friendly side rails, and at least one that lowers, makes access to baby convenient-especially for shorter parents. Before buying, practice releasing them to determine which are the easiest to use while holding baby. Yet if they’re too easy, baby might learn to release them himself.
  • Drop-down sides that are at least 9 inches above the mattress support when lowered. When raised, the top of the drop side must be 26 inches above the support at its lowest position.
  • Slats that are no more than 23/8 inches apart (about the width of a pop can) to avoid entrapment.
  • Avoid corner posts that are more than 1/16 inches high so baby’s clothes can’t get caught.
  • The crib’s interior perimeter should securely hold a standard crib mattress (513/4 inches long by 273/4 inches wide). You should not be able to slide two fingers between the side of the mattress and the crib. If you can, baby could suffocate in the extra space.
  • Adjust mattress height by simply raising or lowering the mattress support. Lower it when baby starts sitting up, then again when he can stand, and make sure the support locks in place so baby’s jumps and thumps can’t knock it out of position.
  • Casters are handy when a linen change is required. Look for locking casters to avoid unnecessary rolling.
  • Conversion cribs that turn into a toddler or even full-size bed. Check to see if conversions will be easy to carry out and whether or not an additional conversion kit is needed.
  • Ensure non-toxic, child-friendly paint and materials that are free from lead or other harmful chemicals.
  • Avoid embellishments that can break off and pose a choking hazard. Cutout designs could inadvertently trap baby’s arm or neck.
  • Read crib and SIDS safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Avoid cribs made before 1973 since hand-me-downs may not conform to current safety standards.
  • Check for recalls at
  • For multiples: Some cribs offer a twin feature with two attached cribs in one for co-sleeping. Other space-saving cribs for twins are stacked vertically or attached in an L-shape to fit into corners.
  • For the neatnik: a built-in shelf or drawer to hold diapers, creams, extra pajamas and a toy or two can be a convenient organizer.

Don’t forget the mattress

An equally important, if less exciting purchase is the crib mattress. There are two major types to choose from-one made from lightweight (and less expensive) polyester foam and the other from innerspring coils. Both will keep baby well supported, so when buying, consider cost, comfort and longevity.

Choosing a mattress is really a matter of personal preference, but these are good rules of thumb to follow:

  • Be firm. Push down to determine how much pressure it takes to sink into the mattress. The more resistance you get, the firmer the mattress. In an innerspring, a firmer mattress will have a higher number of coils along with border rods that provide better weight distribution over the surface, reducing saggy or soft spots. Keep in mind that baby won’t have the ability to lift his head from a soft bed, so a firm mattress is best.
  • Look for layers. Multi-layer covers-some of which are anti-microbial-can add durability and germ-repellent power against diaper blowouts or spit-up.
  • Money matters. A higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. Exceptions include allergy-reducing or 100 percent-certified organic specialty mattresses that can be worth the money if they suit a medical need.
  • Members only. Check to see if the manufacturer is a member of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

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