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Nursery Ideas

How To Buy A Crib

Baby's crib is the focal point of your nursery. Here's how to choose the perfect—and safest—model.

Photo: Natalie Champa Jennings

Baby's crib is the focal point of your nursery. Here's how to choose the perfect—and safest—model.

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 his or hers, no matter when you introduce it.

General bedtime safety

Ventilation
Make sure baby's room is well-ventilated, adding a fan to the space if necessary. Evidence shows this helps prevent SIDS.

Temperature
Err on the side of a cooler room — this promotes better respiratory stimulation in baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests keeping the room between 65 and 70 degrees.

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

Certification
Whatever product you buy should be safety certified by the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association. Keep in mind that crib safety standards changed after June 28, 2011, when drop-side rail cribs were banned.

Positioning
Babies should always be put to bed on their backs—this is the safest position for SIDS prevention.

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

Crib

Installation
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.

Height
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).

Slats
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. For the same reason, avoid cribs with cutouts in the headboard or footboard.

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.

Bedding
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.

Bumpers
Bumpers should not be in the crib because of safety hazards. According to guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics set in October 2011, crib bumpers do not protect against injury and actually pose a risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.

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.

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.

Sleep positioners
These triangle-shaped devices that support babies on either side to them on their backs make some parents feel safer. But as of 2010, both the FDA and CPSC warned against using them in light of suffocation concerns.

Secondhand cribs
It’s especially important to check the safety measures of older cribs, whether they’re family heirlooms or from a resale shop, since safety standards changed in 2011. 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, and stay on top of the CPSC's recall list.

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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 the face or neck area.

Pets
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.

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By Paula Kashtan