Smart Shopping: Cribs

Getting Started l Types l Features

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Of all the items you'll need for your baby, a crib is one of the most challenging to choose. There's a wide array of styles and price ranges. Unlike bassinets, cradles, and bedside sleepers, cribs are the only beds for babies that are required to meet federal government mandated standards.


While you might consider a bassinet, cradle, or bedside sleeper at first (some common alternatives for your baby's first four months or so), your child is safest in a crib. Certification by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Associate on a bassinet can offer a layer of protection that uncertified models cannot, but a JPMA label is no guarantee of safety. We don't recommend bedside sleepers (also referred to as "co-sleepers") at all because there are neither voluntary nor mandatory standards covering them. This crib guide will help you to make your buying decision.

Basic is best
The safest cribs are basic, with simple lines and no scrollwork or finials-infants can strangle if their clothing gets caught in such detail work. Heeding this advice will get you a safer crib-and save you money. Recent recalls have raised concerns about the safety of cribs with drop sides. We recommend that you look first for a crib with stationary sides until more stringent and comprehensive safety standards are developed. Consumer Reports' tests, which are based on the existing safety standards, do not address the durability issues associated with some recent recalls that could affect safety.Buy new

If possible, avoid buying or accepting a used crib. Older models might not meet current safety standards or might be in disrepair. If you must use an older crib, avoid those built before 2000, about a year after the latest voluntary standards for slat-attachment strength took effect. By law, the production date of the crib has to be displayed on the crib and on its shipping carton.

Still, be on the lookout for safety hazards. Even when you're buying new, bring a ruler with you when you shop. If the spaces between the slats -- or anywhere else on the crib -- are greater than 2 3/8 inches (2.375 inches) wide, they are too far apart. If you buy online, measure any openings immediately when the crib arrives at your home.

Check for sharp edges and protruding screws, nuts, corner posts, decorative knobs, and other pieces that could catch a baby's clothing at the neck. Buying new could help to protect your baby from hidden dangers such as drop sides, slats, or hardware that might have been weakened by rough use, or excessive dampness or heat during storage.

Check construction and workmanship
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 as tightly assembled as they could be. Without applying excessive pressure, try rotating each slat to see if it's well secured to the railings. You shouldn't find loose bars on a new crib, or any cracking if they are made of wood.

Buy the mattress at the same time
In the store, pair the mattress and crib you plan to buy to make sure that they're a good fit. (Mattresses typically are sold separately.) By law, a mattress used in a full-size 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.

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Arrange for assembly
Cribs are shipped unassembled, so if you're not sure that you can put a crib together correctly (typically a two-person job that requires up to an hour-from unpacking to complete assembly), ask the retailer to send a qualified assembly crew to your home. That can cost an extra $70 or more unless assembly is included in the retail price, but it can give you valuable peace of mind. Besides saving tempers and fingers, crib assembly by the store allows you to inspect the crib on the spot-and reject it if you discover flaws.

Assemble the crib or have it assembled where your baby will be sleeping initially, such as in your bedroom (recommended for your baby's first six months). Once it's put together, the crib might not fit through a small doorway, and you might need to disassemble and reassemble it in your baby's nursery six months later. Having the baby in your room might not be convenient, 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 have this feature, some with only three levels and some with several levels. The higher levels make it easier to take your infant out of the crib but become 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 help your little escape artists to climb out, which is another reason that they don't belong in the crib.

Place your baby's crib well away from windows, window blinds, wall hangings, curtains, toys, and other furniture so that an adventurous baby can't get to anything dangerous.

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

Use the proper sheets
When buying the mattress, make sure you also buy sheets that fit. If a sheet isn't the correct fit, your baby might pull it up and become entangled. Test the sheet by pulling up on each corner to make sure it doesn't pop off the mattress corner.

After you crib has been in use for awhile, make sure to check all the hardware periodically and 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 are secure.

Safe sleeping
Let your baby sleep unencumbered. Don't wrap your bundle of joy in blankets or comforters when he's in the crib. He can quickly become entangled and might not be able to free himself. Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed animals, or dolls don't belong in the bassinet or crib. And remember that babies can quickly overheat. Put yours to sleep in lightweight clothes and set the thermostat at a comfortable 70 degrees. Infant sleepwear should fit snuggly and be made of flame-resistant fabric, with no drawstrings, ribbons, or anything else that might catch on something. Buttons and snaps should be firmly attached to avoid becoming a choking hazard.

Always put your baby to sleep on his back, not his stomach, to minimize the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and rebreathing, a sometimes fatal circumstance 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. The lack of oxygen can cause death.

Don't use a sleep positioner to keep your baby on his or her back. Many sleep positioner models, including some made of memory foam, can be lethal. If the infant moves down and presses his or her face against the soft surface, the air passages can be blocked, causing suffocation.


Crib prices range from $100 for economy models to more than $3,000 for convertible custom models. Here's more on the types of cribs you'll find at the various price points.

Economy cribs
Models at the low end of the price scale can be adequate. Prices are low because manufacturers use less-expensive materials and simpler finishes and designs. These models tend to be lighter in weight than top-of-the-line cribs. White or pastel paint or shiny lacquer-like finish may cover wood defects, such as knots and variations in shading. You might notice minor finishing flaws, such as poorly sanded rough spots, uneven patches of paint, and the heads of metal brads or glue residue at the base of the slats.

On a low-priced model, typically only one side of the crib can be released. The metal mattress support hooks at each corner might need tightening. The springs supporting the mattress are lighter in construction than those in more expensive models. When you shake the crib, make sure it is sturdy, and doesn't rattle.

Midpriced cribs
You'll find a lot in this price range. These models are sturdier and more decorative than the economy models. They come in an array of wood finishes, from Scandinavian-style natural to golden maple and oak shades, reddish-brown cherries, and deep mahoganies. End boards may be solid and smoothly finished, and many models have slats on all sides. The gentle curves of the end boards are well finished with rounded edges. 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, the springs heavier.

These cribs have single, double, or no drop sides. Locking wheels or casters (sometimes optional) provide stability. There 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 have recessed guides -- a grooved channel in each end board for the drop side -- no exposed brads or glue residue where the slats are fastened to the rails, and a uniform finish. They might have extra-high posts, canopies, or a storage drawer underneath.

In this price range, you'll sometimes find cribs that convert into other configurations. One type, typically called a 3-in-1 crib, converts to a daybed and to a full-sized bed. You'll also find 4-in-1 cribs that convert to a toddler bed, a daybed, and a full-sized bed. The most versatile cribs can become a toddler bed, a full-sized bed and a love seat.

High-end cribs
These models, many of them imported from Europe, have hand-rubbed, glazed, or burnished finishes. You'll see round cribs (still a novelty, though they've been around awhile), sleigh styles with curved end boards and hand-painted details, and models handcrafted from wrought iron.

These cribs might have single, double, or no drop sides. On some with drop sides, the hardware is recessed and might be so well hidden that it's difficult to tell if the side lowers. The mattress is supported by heavy-gauge springs and heavyweight metal frames and might adjust to four heights. These cribs might include a drawer and convert to a daybed/toddler bed or other nursery furniture. At the highest end, you'll find custom-made regular and convertible cribs that may be sold as part of a nursery suite; a fairy-tale canopy might be part of the ensemble.


Some crib features are important for child safety, while others pertain more to convenience or appearance. Here are the crib features to consider.

Drop sides
Recent recalls have raised concerns about the safety of cribs with drop sides. We recommend that you look first for a crib with stationary sides until more stringent and comprehensive safety standards are developed. CR's tests do not address the durability issues associated with some recent recalls that could affect safety.

Mattress height
All full-sized cribs have at least two mattress height positions; more expensive models have three or four. To prevent your baby from falling out 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; in some models, screws or bolts are hard to reach. The distance between the top of the mattress in its lowest position and the top of the crib rail should be 26 inches. Check that before using the crib.

Mattress supports
Most mattress supports consist of a metal frame with springs. In some cribs, the mattress support is a one-piece board; in some cases, it is just hangers that support a spring wire grid frame, or a grid with wood slats. The mattress supports are adjustable so the mattress can be raised or lowered, depending on the size of the child. Mattress supports need to be held securely in place so they aren't dislodged when you're changing a crib sheet or when another child or large pet pushes up from underneath.

Sides and railings
Crib sides are constructed by fitting bars (or spindles or slats) into holes in the top and bottom rails, then securing each bar with glue and one or two metal brads. The small holes made by the brads are usually filled and covered with a finish so they're invisible. A mandatory safety standard requires that crib slats be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart; you should measure that distance with a ruler before buying or using the crib to be sure it meets than standard. Corner posts or finials should be either less than 1/16 of an inch high or more than 16 inches, to avoid the possibility of a child's clothing catching on it.

Structural integrity
Sturdiness is a sign of construction quality. One or more stabilizer bars-metal rods fastened to both end boards beneath the crib-help to make the frame more rigid.

Teething rails
These are smooth, plastic coverings for the top of the side rails to protect the crib and a gnawing baby's gums. The voluntary industry standard says teething rails should be built to stay in place and not crack or break.

Plastic or metal crib wheels can be standard rollers or round, multidirectional, ball-shape casters that swivel and make it easier to haul a crib from one room to another. Not all cribs come with them, which isn't an issue if your crib won't be venturing out of the nursery. If your baby's crib will be on bare wood or tile floors and you choose a crib with wheels, make sure that they lock to prevent the crib from "walking" across the room-and the other children from taking baby on a joy ride.

Consider buying a crib that converts to a toddler bed only if you don't plan to have more children soon. Otherwise, you'll need the crib for your next baby and never get the chance to convert it. Consider buying a convertible crib if you don't mind ending up with a toddler bed that's very crib-like. Many convertible cribs can be switched to a "big girl" or "big boy" bed simply by removing one drop side; the basic look of the crib remains. On the other hand, 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. Finally, keep in mind that some convertible beds require parts that typically aren't included in the original purchase, such as bed rails, stabilizing rails, or support rails (for converting to a full-sized bed).

Bottom drawer
Some models include a drawer or two under the mattress support structure. Under-crib drawers usually are not attached to the crib frame. Some are freestanding and roll out from under the crib on casters. 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 bow and give way when loaded with linens or clothing. A drawer bottom made of a harder material, such as fiberboard, is more likely to hold up.

Cribs with dark wood finishes are available, although cribs in lighter stains such as natural wood, oaks, and maples tend to be more popular. But white remains the most common crib color. Other painted colors 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.

Copyright © 2006-2010 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction in whole or in part without written permission.

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2009-03-26 15:33:58

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