It's estimated that babies spend as much as eighteen hours a day in their crib during their first year, which means that you and the crib are pretty much going to be your baby's whole world. You'll want a bed that fits your style, but you'll also want something comfortable and safe.
Whether your baby goes straight to a crib or spends a few months in a bassinet, cradle, or co-sleeper is up to you. Most children end up in a crib eventually, though, so if you only want to buy one piece of furniture, that's the one. There are also great multistage options that take you from a bassinet to a crib to a toddler bed with just one purchase.
Cribs come in a lot of different styles, with all sorts of materials and finishes to choose from, so whatever look you're going for, it's easier than ever to find something you love.
Whatever style of bed you choose, avoid using hand-me-downs. Newer models are safer because safety standards have evolved, and older cribs might have rails that are farther apart than is considered safe.
your basic choices
Here are your choices for sleepy-time success.
The crib is the staple of the nursery, the one piece of furniture that everything else is designed around. Prices can range anywhere from $100 up to thousands for a custom crib. A crib that converts to a toddler bed can be well worth the investment because it adds another two to four years of use to your purchase.
bassinets and cradles
A smaller bed for your baby’s first months—either a bassinet or a cradle that rocks—can add a nice, romantic touch to the nursery, though is not a necessity by any means. One big upside is that they’re small enough to move around the house, which means your baby can nap in any room (including your bedroom, making nighttime feedings more convenient).
If you want to keep your child in the same bed as you, a co-sleeper is a small bed that either lies on top of your bed or attaches to the side of it, with sturdy sides to keep you from rolling over onto your infant while you sleep. The on-topof- the-bed style can also double as a portable crib for parents on the go.
Portable cribs can be a lifesaver for frequent travelers, and they’re also a good option for the grandparents’ houses. Some fold and unfold and can also be used as everyday playpens. Newer options work more like pop-up tents, and while they don’t double as playpens, they’re smaller and more portable and double as a UV-protected tent for outdoors.
Cradles, bassinets and co-sleepers. The important thing to know about these three types of beds is that they’re all entirely optional. They do have a certain romantic appeal and take up less space, but in just three to six months, your child will need something bigger. (As a particular note for cradles, make sure that the rocking motion is easy to trigger, and stays quiet!) None of these comes in a standard size, so if it doesn’t include a mattress, make sure you can find one that fits.
Portable cribs. When shopping for a portable crib, make sure it’s lightweight enough to suit your needs, easy to set up and take down, easy to clean and care for, and durable enough to stand up to use. An included travel case, bag, or at least a handle is a simple, must-have feature to ensure portability.
Mattresses. Just like with your own bed, you’re going to want a good mattress to put in the crib. Almost all cribs use standard-sized U.S. crib mattresses, and the general rule is that firmer is better. In fact, some studies have linked softer mattresses to SIDS.
There are two basic types of mattress: foam and innerspring. A good foam mattress is heavier and, when pushed on, bounces back quickly. An innerspring mattress should have a coil count of at least 150 and should be firm in the center as well as the edges.
Crib mattresses are typically covered with a quilted or laminated vinyl to enhance durability and water resistance. The exceptions are organic mattresses, which include wool mattresses with an innerspring construction and latex mattresses that are more like foam. If you choose an organic mattress, keep in mind that they don’t have the vinyl covering, so be sure to pick up a waterproof mattress pad to protect your investment.
features to look for
- Convertibility. Today, most cribs convert into at least a toddler bed, and some also cover the bassinet stage, as well.
- Adjustable mattress height. All cribs have three or four mattress-height settings. The idea is to keep the mattress higher at first so it’s easier to reach into the crib, then lower the mattress as your baby becomes more mobile to keep him from jumping or climbing out. Make sure it doesn’t require a degree in crib design to change the mattress settings—you’ll do it up to three times for each child!
- Under-crib drawers. Some manufacturers offer these as an option, and they can be a great storage solution for a crowded nursery. If your crib doesn’t come with built-in drawers, you can always buy storage boxes or baskets to put below.
- Breathability. Make sure your crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper has a breathable construction and enough room for your child. This not only minimizes sweaty heads and improves sleep but is also a SIDS consideration.
- Cradles, bassinets, and co-sleepers are really only options for newborns and infants. Depending on the size of both your baby and the bed, these options will only be useful for three to six months.
- Cribs can be used from day one, and most children stay in a crib until sometime after their second birthday. A telltale sign your baby is about to outgrow his crib is when he starts trying to climb out.
- Cribs that convert into toddler beds can be used for five years or more, depending on the size of the child. These beds use the same mattress as the crib and include a protective bar to keep the sleeping child from falling out of bed.
- Portable cribs may be used for sleeping on the road for as long as you keep your child in a crib. Once your child has outgrown her crib—and is still learning to sleep without falling out of bed—you’ll have to find a new solution when traveling, like an attachable guardrail or the old pillows-on-the-floor trick.
Portability. If you travel a lot, you’ll want a portable crib; how often you travel will determine what kind. A portable that doubles as a playpen counts as another bag to check, while the pop-up-tent style is smaller and lighter and can be carried in your suitcase.
Multistage. Be sure to take your family plans into consideration when choosing a crib. If you only have one child, you might get the most value out of a crib that converts to a toddler bed. If you’re planning for more kids, though, you’ll get plenty of use out of your nonconvertible crib.
- Remove all pillows, stuffed animals, duvets, quilts, big blankets, and even teethers when baby is asleep or unattended.
- If you have a drop-rail crib, always remember to keep the side pulled up and locked in place when your baby is in the crib.
- Crib mattresses should fit snugly. The rule of thumb is no more than two adult fingers should be able to fit between the crib and mattress.
- On a regular basis, check your crib for any loose screws, bolts, brackets, chipped or peeling paint, splinters, or broken edges.
- Keep your crib safely out of reach of dangling cords, lamp shades, heaters, and anything else that might pose a risk.
- Make sure there’s enough breathing room in your cradle, bassinet, or co-sleeper that your baby won’t get overheated.
- Portable cribs should not be used on a permanent basis; they don’t have the durability for safe long-term use.
- Canopy or bonnet. Purely decorative, but these add a sweet touch to cradles and bassinets.
- Crib mobiles. Developmentally speaking, bold black-and-white graphics are a great choice for newborns. Just be sure the mobile is not hanging low enough for your child to grab once he starts standing.
- Sound machines. Some people opt for sound machines that attach to the outside of the crib and include soothing music or nature sounds.
The risks and rewards of co-sleeping
Sharing a bed with your infant—or co-sleeping—is controversial in the United States. Supporters believe that a parent’s bed is just where an infant belongs; opponents believe it’s unsafe.
The benefits of co-sleeping? It encourages breast-feeding, makes it easier to get the baby to sleep, provides better sleep for both mom and baby, and encourages bonding, especially for working parents who don’t get to see their child during the day.
The arguments against co-sleeping are mostly safety related. The big one is the danger of suffocation if a parent inadvertently rolls over onto the baby. But there are also concerns about the baby falling asleep facedown on a softer bed or getting stuck between the mattress and the headboard, wall, or nightstand. Some of these concerns can be mitigated with the use of a co-sleeper, which goes on top of your bed and has rigid walls, creating a smaller space that’s safer for your child.
Talk to your pediatrician if you want a professional opinion, but where your child sleeps—whether it’s in your bed or a crib—is a personal decision.
Sleeping safety and SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the diagnosis given for the sudden and unexplained death of an infant under one year of age. SIDS is the leading cause of death in children under the age of one, and most cases occur between two and four months of age.
SIDS is sometimes called “crib death” because most cases of SIDS occur when a baby is in a crib, sleeping. Cribs don’t cause SIDS, but other aspects of an infant’s sleeping environment have been associated with an increased risk. For example, bedding that bunches up around a baby’s nose or mouth can cause dangerous re-breathing of oxygen-depleted air.
It’s important to make sure that your baby’s crib is breathable and that you don’t leave unnecessary items in the crib with your child. Other than a fitted sheet and properly installed bumper, the only thing that should be in the crib with your baby is a lightweight and breathable blanket.
In fact, many SIDS activists prefer a wearable blanket or sleep sack to keep a baby warm at night, replacing loose blankets in the crib and lessening the likelihood of bedding ending up over or around the baby’s face.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the safest position for babies to sleep in, to reduce the likelihood of SIDS, is on their backs. If your child likes to roll over in her sleep, consider a sleep positioner that goes next to the hips to keep her properly in place. Some styles also include an inclined back support that keeps the baby’s head slightly elevated and can help with digestion or breathing when a baby has a cold. Sleep positioners should not be used once your child can roll over independently.
There is mounting evidence that suggests some babies are more vulnerable to SIDS because of abnormalities found in the part of the brain that controls breathing and waking during sleep. So, while no one knows for sure whether the measures listed above can prevent SIDS, they definitely protect against suffocation and are important precautions to take.