Best Baby Cribs: What to Look For

Baby cribs are the linchpin of your nursery. Keep safety and convenience in mind when looking for the best baby cribs and you cannot go wrong. It's one of the most expensive items you will need for your baby and one of the most essential to get right. Most pediatricians recommend waiting until infants are six months old before putting them in a crib, but it's never too early to start shopping. 

Safety
Like car seats, all cribs sold in the United States must meet certain safety requirements. Crib slats or spindles must be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart to prevent babies' heads from slipping through and getting stuck.

The drop side of a crib, when lowered, must be at least nine inches above the mattress support, which protects babies from accidental falls. When raised, the drop side should be at least 26 inches above the mattress support when the mattress is set at the lowest level. A crib's corner posts should be no higher than one sixteenth of an inch above the rails unless the crib has a canopy, in which case the posts should be about 16 inches high.

Most cribs need to be assembled by the buyer, so keep this mind when purchasing online. Proper assembly is critical to ensure safety. For more information about crib safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (http://www.aap.org/family/inffurn.htm) or the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (http://www.jpma.org/index2.cfm?section=BabySafety#cribs).

Mattresses
When you buy a crib, you will probably have to purchase a crib mattress separately. Your crib's interior dimensions should accommodate a standard crib mattress and be at least 57 ¾ inches long by 27 ¾ inches wide. By law, all crib mattresses are required to be 57 5/8 inches by 27 ¼ inches. When the mattress is in the crib, you should be able to fit no more than two fingers between the mattress and the sides of the crib.

Convenience
Generally speaking, the simplest cribs are the best, but there are some features worth looking for while you're crib shopping. Look for cribs with one-hand release-handy when you're trying to put your already-sleeping baby to bed-or that offer a drop side that can be operated with your knee or foot. Cribs with dual drop sides are only necessary if you plan to place the crib in the middle of the room or perpendicular to the wall.

Adjustable mattress supports are common to almost all cribs. These allow you to raise the mattress higher for infants, or lower it for older babies who can pull up. Look for a minimum of two mattress heights and be sure to check how the mattress is supported. Avoid vinyl straps that can wear over time in favor of metal bars or metal spring systems.

Some cribs come on casters that lock in place when the crib is stationary and release when you need to move the crib. If you plan to move the crib while your child sleeps inside, make sure it can fit through the door. Check the crib's full physical dimensions and measure your doorways before buying.

If your nursery is small and you need to save space, look for storage drawers beneath the crib or choose a model that has a full chest of drawers on one side.

Convertibility
Another point to consider is how long you'll need to use the crib. Many manufacturers now offer cribs that grow with your child and convert to toddler beds. In some cases, they even convert again to adult day beds. Convertible cribs are generally more expensive than traditional cribs, but some families find that the cost savings over time are worth the added up-front cost. If you're considering a convertible crib, check to see if it comes with a conversion kit or if you'll need to purchase one separately.

Crib Style
Your baby's crib will likely be the focal point of his or her room; it should look good and match the décor. Baby furniture design has come a long way, and most manufacturers now offer a variety of woods, finishes and designs, from traditional to contemporary. Whether you're designing your nursery for the first time or redoing it for another child, look for manufacturers that offer other nursery pieces to match. You can outfit the entire room at once or add pieces as you're ready.

Always Buy New
Cribs are one of the more expensive items you'll purchase for your baby. The short length of time your baby will use a crib may make it tempting to cut corners and buy used. Don't. Like car seats and other critical baby gear, you want to buy your crib new to ensure you're purchasing one that meets the most up-to-date safety standards. Although all new cribs must meet minimum government requirements, many self-governing trade associations set even higher standards. Look for evidence that the crib you purchase meets or exceeds certification standards set by the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (http://www.jpma.org/) or the American Society of Testing and Materials (www.astm.org/).

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