Hand-me-down clothes may be okay but second-hand cribs often aren't. More infants die every year in crib mishaps than with any other nursery product. Cribs made before the federal government issued mandatory safety standards in 1973 will likely be unsafe. Additional voluntary standards were adopted by manufacturers in 1992, so it's best to use one made after that time. When you shop, look for a crib with a JPMA certification seal.
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), representing 95 percent of its industry, has a voluntary certification program to help parents select safe products. JPMA standards were developed jointly with the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and others. Look for the JPMA seal on products you are considering, or check the list at JPMA's Web site, www.JPMA.org.
The CPSC says a safe crib has:
- No missing, loose, broken, or improperly installed screws, brackets, or other hardware on the crib or mattress support.
- No more than 23/8 inches between crib slats so that a baby's body cannot fit through.
- A firm, snug-fitting mattress so a baby can't get trapped between the mattress and the side of the crib.
- No corner posts higher than 1/16 inch above the end panels (unless they are more than 16 inches tall for a canopy), so a baby can't catch clothing and strangle.
- No cutout areas on the headboard or footboard, so a baby's head can't get trapped.
- A mattress support that doesn't easily pull apart from the corner posts so a baby can't get trapped between mattress and crib.
- No splinters or rough edges.
When you buy a crib, it comes with those ominous words: “Some Assembly Required.” Follow the instruction manual carefully, and make sure the hardware is tightened properly and that there are no sharp edges. After you start using it, check the crib periodically to make sure nothing has come loose.
Your newborn may enjoy mobiles attached to the crib or the baby gyms that stretch across it, but these items should be removed as soon as your child is old enough to push up on his hands and knees—usually around five months. At that stage, these toys pose a choking or strangulation hazard because a baby can reach high enough to pull them into the crib.
Since bassinets take up little space, some parents use these for their newborns, especially if the baby is to sleep in the parents' room initially. As with cribs, make sure the mattress is firm and fits snugly to avoid a risk of suffocation. Also, make sure the folded legs lock into place so the bassinet won't collapse. Some babies have been hurt when siblings tried to lift them out of their bassinets. For that reason, we don't recommend using them if there are other young children in the house.
Move your baby to a crib when he reaches the weight limit set by the manufacturer (which can vary depending on the model) or when he starts to turn over.
Don't skimp on quality when you buy crib sheets. When the Good Housekeeping Institute tested two dozen sheets, the majority shrank and fit poorly after five machine washings. Sheets that don't fit snugly on the crib mattress could pop off the corners and get twisted around baby, increasing the risk of strangulation.
Doubling Up: Bunk Beds
Many toddlers and older kids love bunk beds and so do their parents, who see them as real space savers. If you're thinking about getting them, be aware that some deaths and injuries have occurred because children got their heads caught between the bed frame and guard rails on the top bunk. For this reason, the CPSC says the gap should be no more than 3½ inches. A few children, most under age 1, have died when they became trapped between the bed and the wall. That's why a guardrail next to the wall is recommended on both top and bottom bunks.
Here are other bunk-bed safety tips:
- The CPSC says children under age 6 should not be allowed on the top bunk.
- Mattresses and foundations should not rest only on bed frames; they need support from wooden slats, metal straps, or sturdy wires.
- Kids should use the ladder to get on and to leave the top bunk—no jumping or rough-housing in the beds!