A crib is the safest option for a sleeping baby. Parents need to know which crib to get, how to properly assemble it, where to place it, and what to put into it. Confidence in the proper set-up for a crib will allow parents of newborns to counter any anxiety when leaving their infant unattended in a crib.
Safety experts have amassed considerable research to support accepted guidelines for the proper set-up of a baby crib. To ensure a safe area for a baby to sleep, sit, or play free from any strangulation or suffocation hazards, adhere to the ABCs of Safe Sleep and the following recommendations for properly setting up the baby crib. Keep reading to learn how to properly set up a baby crib.
Table of Contents
Select the Right Crib for a Baby to Sleep
The struggle to get a baby to sleep begins with selecting the right crib. Modern parents have many options, but how to choose? The right crib safely accommodates babies of any age until they become mobile enough to climb out of it or pull unsafe objects into it with them. Consider the following factors when selecting the right crib.
- Terms to Know
- Types of Cribs
- Crib Features
Once you consider each of these factors, you will be able to properly assess what crib is right for you.
Terms to Know
Though the term baby is frequently used to describe any child up to four years old, there are subtle differences in terminology when referring to newborns, infants, and toddlers, all stages of baby development. These categories of development help parents understand not only what their child is capable of in terms of mobility, speech, and digestion, but also what unique safety considerations apply.
In general, the definition of a newborn is any baby just born and up to two months old. The term infant typically refers to a baby aged two months to a year, and the toddler phase generally refers to a baby aged one to four years. A parent must be familiar with these labels when reading literature or item descriptions about cribs. For example, some cribs are labeled safe for newborns, but not toddlers.
Similarly, the term crib is sometimes used in general terms to describe anywhere a baby sleeps, including a cradle, bassinet, Moses basket, baby box, or playpen. While it is possible for a baby to have a safe nap in these settings, these other options do not necessarily adhere to specific crib safety guidance.
Types of Cribs
Cradles, bassinets, and Moses baskets are designed only for newborns with very little mobility since they can wiggle or rock them enough to tip over. Playpens and other portable setups are typically not designed to allow an infant to safely sleep when unattended.
Baby boxes may be called cribs but only in loose terms.
- They are designed to provide a sleeping baby the same safety and stability of a traditional crib when a better alternative is unavailable
- The construction is basic, often with walls of cardboard lined with a tight-fitted sheet, and the box houses a small mattress
- Baby boxes have been used in many social service programs to provide a safe crib alternative to new mothers
A convertible crib is designed in such a way that it can be modified as a baby grows. Assembly instructions include options for high side rails, low or partial side rails, or no side rails to suit newborns, infants with little mobility, and toddlers with increased mobility.
A combination crib, or combo crib, includes a removable changing table to give 2-in-1 functionality to the piece. The changing table might be designed to be mounted at the top of the crib frame or on either side.
The category of portable cribs is used to describe those that can be relatively easy to either disassemble and reassemble in another place or those that can be folded to a convenient size for transport. Parents should keep in mind these models are designed for portability, not necessarily stability, and take appropriate caution.
Of the standard cribs on the market, the most common crib manufactured and sold is a rectangle in shape, with a headboard, footboard, and two slatted sides. Some deluxe models have added features, such as canopies and under-crib drawers.
A standard crib is considered a full-size crib, and the interior measurements are regulated by safety authorities so that standard mattresses fit snugly. Mini-cribs are also available to conserve space, but the measurements are not standardized, so appropriate crib mattresses and sheets may be harder to find.
Choose a New or Used Baby Crib
Babies are naturally vulnerable, so there are risks to their safety any time they fall asleep. New cribs must meet strict regulations for safety, so many consider the purchase of a new crib well worth the investment. Used cribs present potential hazards like loose or rusted hardware and weakened construction materials, which decrease the stability of the crib.
When purchasing a new crib, parents can ensure the manufacturer has followed safety regulations by checking for certification from professional and government agencies. The Consumer Products Safety Commission, American Society for Testing and Materials, and Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association all offer crib safety certifications.
Gently used cribs bought second-hand are an option for a frugal parent provided they are closely inspected, have not been modified, and have never been subject to a recall. If the purchase of a used crib requires transport, disassembly may be required. In that case, great care should be taken to ensure no hardware is lost and the manufacturer’s instructions are followed for reassembly.
Follow Crib Assembly Instructions
A new baby crib may be purchased pre-assembled or as a self-assembly kit with the materials, hardware, and instructions the new owner needs to put it together safely. It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly exactly since they were written in accordance with all existing safety regulations.
Used cribs, while generally not recommended, may be purchased from consignment shops, yard sales, or friends and family members. If possible, the crib should be transported without disassembly. If that is not an option, the disassembly and reassembly of the crib should be done carefully, without losing any material or hardware, in accordance with the original manufacturer’s instructions.
Cribs are constructed with multiple pieces secured together by hardware like screws and brackets. Because of this, there is always a possibility that a piece might loosen, which would negatively impact the crib’s stability. A periodic inspection of the crib’s sturdiness is recommended.
It is also recommended to periodically check the exposed surfaces of the crib for any hazards a baby could encounter, such as the jagged end of a screw. If the crib is constructed of wood, ensure the surface is smooth and a baby cannot get a splinter by grabbing, licking, or even chewing on the sides.
Choose the Right Place to Put a Baby Crib
Properly setting up a baby crib includes placing it in the safest spot of a room. Cribs should never be located near electrical plugs or devices, in reach of anything that can be pulled into the crib, or near window blinds or cords.
A baby’s ideal temperature is cooler than one might expect, so the natural instinct to keep a tiny infant warm by putting it near a sunny window or heat source should be countered with concerns for safety. An overheated baby is more susceptible to health risks than a cool one, especially when wearing tight-fitting sleepwear.
If parents want to be close to their sleeping infant, it is perfectly fine to locate a baby crib within their bedroom. This allows for quick access to a crying child, but it may cause problems for parents of newborns in need of more sleep. The quality of the baby’s rest might suffer, too, if it is constantly awakened by talking or snoring by its parents.
Placing a baby’s crib within its parents’ bedroom is not recommended as a long-term arrangement. Any initial anxiety experienced by parents separated from their newborns can be eased with the use of a reliable baby monitor. Even simple, inexpensive monitors can clearly transmit sounds from a nursery when placed close enough to the parent and the child.
Pick the Best Crib Mattress
Recommended bedding for a baby crib includes only two things: the mattress and the fitted crib sheet. Every crib needs a firm mattress to fully support and protect a sleeping baby. Any bedding apart from the mattress and crib sheet can pose a risk of suffocation to a newborn.
A safe mattress for an infant is clean, firm, and fits snugly within the crib frame. Crib mattresses are typically waterproof and easily cleaned, but if they become torn or degraded, they should be replaced.
Used mattresses are never recommended because it is too difficult to thoroughly sanitize them. Crib mattresses can also become less firm over time, which can create depressions in the mattress that may interfere with babies’ breathing if they lay their head or neck on them. Firmness is essential for the proper crib mattress.
Cribs and crib mattresses are typically purchased separately.
- Similar to adult mattress sizes—twin, full, queen, and king—crib mattress sizes are standard and interchangeable among most crib models
- However, slight variations do exist, such as those mentioned above for non-standard mini-cribs
Before leaving an infant unattended in a crib, ensure there are no gaps between the sides of the mattress and the crib frame. An accepted rule of thumb is that no more than two fingers should be able to fit between the frame and mattress.
All parents know that overnight accidents happen, and babies sometimes wake up with damp clothes or crib sheets. Standard crib mattresses are designed to be waterproof, so parents should resist the inclination to add padding between the sheet and mattress to absorb moisture as it can be a suffocation hazard. Instead, wash the crib sheet and mattress with gentle cleansers regularly.
Add a Fitted Crib Sheet
Other than the mattress, a fitted crib sheet is the only other item recommended inside a crib with a sleeping baby. A soft, tight, secured, and fitted crib sheet gives babies a layer of comfort between them and the mattress.
The most important consideration when choosing a proper sheet for your baby’s crib is that it fits the mattress as tightly and securely as possible. If an infant is able to grab the sheet with its fingers, it could too easily pull the sheet loose and become wrapped in it.
Adults are used to a combination of a flat and fitted sheet on their mattresses, but only a single fitted sheet should be used for cribs. Proper crib sheets have gusseting on the corners that wrap tightly and securely around the four corners of the mattress. For further peace of mind, a parent can purchase a set of sheet clips to tighten and secure the sheet on the underside of the mattress.
Crib sheets should be changed and washed frequently to maintain a safe level of cleanliness for a newborn. Detergents designed specifically for newborns can be used when washing crib sheets to reduce any risk of allergy or skin irritation.
What Should Go Inside the Crib with the Baby?
Knowing what not to put inside the crib with the baby is just as crucial to its safety as what to put within it. Though commonly sold, crib bedding accessories such as coordinating blankets and bumpers present a safety hazard for infants. The same is true for pillows, plush dolls, and swaddling blankets.
For the safest sleeping conditions for your baby, remove everything from the crib except the mattress and a clean, secured, fitted sheet. There should be no padding, bumpers, loose sheets, blankets, toys, stuffed animals, or pillows. All of these represent some level of danger to an unattended baby.
Swaddling is a common practice when laying an infant down to sleep, but only swaddling blankets made of the lightest and most breathable fabrics should be used. If parents decide to swaddle their baby, they should ensure the blanket is as secure as possible and will not unravel as the infant squirms throughout the night.
If a blanket is absolutely necessary for the baby, a parent can take extra steps to make sure it is used safely. A thin, breathable blanket can be secured tightly at two corners of the bed, leaving only enough fabric to reach the baby’s chest. That reduces the risk of suffocation for a sleeping infant.
Parents may see items like a crib mattress riser or infant sleep positioner and incorrectly assume the item has been recommended or even approved for general use. A doctor may recommend an inclined position for sleep based on a baby’s unique respiratory needs, but only then should a parent use any such assistive products and only with the doctor’s agreement.
Overnight accidents and wetness are unavoidable with babies. Most crib mattresses are manufactured with waterproof materials and crib sheets are easily laundered, so no absorbent pads should be used in the crib. These could bunch up or create folds that could interfere with a sleeping infant’s respiration.
Check for Crib Hazards and Safety Recalls
If the above guidance for proper crib set-up is followed, there should be few remaining obstacles to infant sleep safety. Still, a thorough check for hazards and any existing safety recalls or warnings is in order.
As an infant grows, so does its reach. Grabbing and pulling becomes more frequent and forceful. Parents should remove any items that could be pulled into the crib, such as lamps, mobiles, or cords from window treatments.
Cribs have many parts that can become loose or exposed, such as screws or side rails, so parents should check for hazards carefully before using them for the first time and periodically thereafter. Sometimes cribs are made of wood, so the surface should be inspected to prevent a risk of splinters, especially since babies are known to chew on the crib walls.
- Carpenters and furniture makers may craft a unique crib with ornate headboard or footboard, but cutouts in wood or plastic may present a hazard for a curious infant and should be avoided
- The only openings in the crib walls should be the carefully spaced slats on the crib side, which should always be less than 2.5 inches apart
For many years, cribs with drop-down sides were sold and used in abundance. Drop-down cribs are now illegal due to the potential for injury to a child, so this option should be avoided. If a drop-down crib must be used, one can purchase immobilizing brackets to safely secure the side in place.
The manufacturing and sale of cribs is closely regulated and monitored by government agencies and nonprofit consumer groups. Parents can search an online database from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to access crib safety reports, advisories, and recalls.
A child outgrows a crib when it starts to climb the crib walls and reach outside the crib or through the sides. Many children have been seriously injured from falls when they attempt to climb out or when they lose their balance by reaching outside of the crib. At this point, the child may safely graduate to a toddler bed with safety features such as bed rails.