Having a baby is incredibly exciting, and also incredibly nerve-wracking. As a parent, you want to make sure that they have everything they need to grow up healthy, and a hugely important part of that is making sure that they have a safe, comfortable place to sleep as they grow. Most parents focus on the initial crib long before they worry about toddler and twin beds, but some opt for convertible cribs.
Convertible cribs are cribs that are designed to match your child’s growth by changing from a crib to a regular bed. While more expensive, convertible cribs are a safe and convenient way to ensure that you’re prepared for your child’s sleeping needs throughout most of their young life.
Let’s explore the details of conversion cribs and answer some of the most important questions to consider before investing in one for your baby.
What is a Convertible Crib?
In the most basic terms, a convertible crib is a crib designed to be modified to meet your growing child’s needs. It generally has either two or three assembly options: a baby crib, a toddler bed, and, in the case of three options, a twin-sized bed. There are also options for four-in-one, which include being able to convert into a day bed.
How Did We Get Here?
We’ve been keeping our babies in their own special sleeping spaces for most of human history. Originally, they slept in baskets or bundles of cloth. In the case of lower-class families, the baby would sleep in the same bed as their parents and siblings.
Starting in the 1600s, however, people developed crib-like structures out of hollowed-out logs. This was potentially to keep the baby warm in hard winters. In the 1800s, bassinets became popular, as they were a cradle raised off the ground that kept the bay from getting too cold and could be rocked to sooth them.
The modern crib as we know it developed in the 1900s, with the standard slatted design becoming popular in the 1950s as it provided a comfortable, safe place for baby to sleep that could be placed in the same room as the parents or in an adjacent nursery. Crib safety was first standardized in 1973 by the FDA.
Convertible cribs were first introduced in the late ‘90s. Convertible cribs changed the game and meant that single-child families didn’t have to go through so many beds in the first years of their child’s life, and so didn’t have to worry so much about that particular expense. They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years.
Standard Convertible Cribs
As mentioned above, there are convertible cribs with a variety of stages. The most common are two- and three-phase beds, with four-phase and higher being luxury options on the market. They come in practically all the styles and colors that standard cribs do and are available from all of the same retailers.
All cribs in North America must be sized to accommodate a full-sized crib mattress, which are between 51 5/8 inches and 53 inches long and 27 ¼ inches and 28 inches wide. The thickness varies between four and six inches. These standardizations are so that your child is safe in bed; they must not be able to fall between the frame and the mattress or become trapped under the mattress.
Because of this, all cribs, convertible or not, are roughly the same dimensions at 51 3/8″ – 52 5/8″ long by 27 3/8″ – 28 5/8″ wide. There’s no standard height for cribs, but generally, they should be able to accommodate a baby that can pull themselves up on the side without allowing them to fall.
Other Convertible Crib Size Options
Though most convertible cribs are standard sized, they do come in a few different options.
Mini convertible cribs are a good option for people who are working with limited space, such as those in apartments. They’re usually around 37 inches long by 25 inches wide, and frequently have wheels on the bottom to allow for easy movement.
This can be a good option if you’re planning to keep your baby in your room for the first year (as is recommended) and don’t want to take up too much space. They generally convert into twin beds down the line.
There are also combination cribs. These incorporate a changing station, storage, or other useful side item into the crib itself for convenience. The lovely thing about combination convertible cribs is that the side changing station and draws can be detached during the later stages to make it into a bedside table for your child to use, which cuts down on another potential expense.
Because convertible cribs are meant to be used in the home, there aren’t many if any travel options available. Consider investing in a regular travel crib, one which either folds up or packs flat, if you intend to do much travelling with your baby while they’re still young.
How Do Convertible Cribs Work?
For the sake of this example, we’ll go with a four-stage convertible crib. This applies to all cribs, it’s just that some will stop at phases two or three rather than fully converting to all four phases.
- Phase 1 – The Crib. This is the initial construction of your furniture. It functions as a basic stationary crib. It will usually have adjustable mattress heights for your convenience so that you can lower it as your child gets older and more mobile.
- Phase 2 – The Toddler Bed. When your child is old enough to get in and out of bed on their own, usually anywhere between 18 months and three years, you can convert the crib into a toddler bed. This is done by removing the front panel and putting the mattress on its lowest setting (directly above the floor), then adding a small guardrail.
- Phase 3 – The Toddler Daybed. The daybed conversion stage is for toddlers who are a little more stable in their sleeping patter. It simply requires removing the guardrail.
- Phase 4 – The Full-Sized Bed. This is a rarer inclusion in convertible cribs, but some have kits available that will allow you to convert the crib into a full-sized twin or double bed. This is for children who have outgrown their toddler beds and are ready to scale up. Remove the sides of the crib, attach your conversion kit as instructed, and set the mattress on top.
Some convertible cribs have additional conversion options, such as into a child sofa, but these are rarer and decidedly more expensive.
There will always be instructions included with your convertible crib, but if you’re finding them hard to follow, you might look into additional online resources. Consider following video tutorials for your particular model on YouTube, looking at the manufacturer’s website for additional help, consulting more general guides for additional tips, or asking for help in forums.
The best help, however, comes from in-person instruction. Ideally, if you ask your local retailer, you should be able to get some assembly help. If that isn’t an option, talk to your friends and local community to see if there is someone with experience with this model who can help you put it together.
Can You Use a Regular Bed Frame with a Convertible Crib?
This depends heavily on the construction of the crib itself. Some models are designed to be attached to a regular bed frame from the get-go. Others will require a specific conversion kit, usually available separate from the base crib, to safely attach to a full-sized bed frame.
The most common convertible cribs, though, will not function with a regular bed frame. This is because they are designed to become the frames themselves, and don’t have a way of attaching directly to a pre-made frame. You may be able to get away with using the head and foot boards with a regular frame, but it’s considerably easier (not to mention safer) to use a specially-made conversion kit.
Most convertible cribs also do not require a box spring below the mattress. This would make the bed a bit too high for your young child to climb onto easily. Instead, they are designed so that the mattress lies directly on a number of thick wooden slats across the frame. For this reason, you’ll want to use a thicker, firmer mattress.
The Pros and Cons of Convertible Cribs
As with any other choice for your baby, picking a crib can be a struggle. There are a lot of things to consider, from safety to design choice to longevity. This is especially true with convertible cribs, which are more versatile than standard cribs at the cost of being more complicated.
When deciding whether or not to pick a convertible crib, it can be extremely helpful to have a concrete list of pros and cons to refer to, which is what we’ve provided here. Remember that every crib is going to be different, so once you’ve decided on a general style, make a list of pros and cons for each individual model of crib for easier comparison and a sounder final decision.
All that being said, here are the benefits and drawbacks to selecting a convertible crib for you to consider.
Benefits of a Convertible Crib
Convertible cribs cut down on spending over time. Instead of having to purchase three separate beds before your child is five years old, you need only buy the one and change its assembly over time. This means that you can let your child “graduate” to a new bed whenever they’re read as opposed to having to wait until you have the budget to buy a new bed.
Convertible cribs’ recent spike in popularity means that you have a wider variety of options available than ever before. You don’t have to worry about being constricted to a single style or select number of options just because you want the crib to convert. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be able to find one that fits your style.
Because they’re built to grow with your baby, convertible cribs are extremely sturdy. Usually made of wood or some other tough material, these beds are designed to be structurally sound for years to come. Their hardware is designed to take the wearing of replacement and rebuilding every few years, so it’s unlikely to break or wear down easily while you’re using it as long as you use it properly.
As an added bonus, most conversion kits for your crib, beyond even those included in your base model, are easily available through most furniture stores and online. They aren’t particularly expensive and they make it easy to match your crib’s style and size to any child’s room and individual sleeping needs.
Drawbacks of a Convertible Crib
Convertible cribs are usually considerably more expensive upfront than a regular crib. While the average standard crib costs roughly low hundreds, convertible cribs start much higher. They can range from about a $$$ for a two-in-one system to more than $$$$ for a complete four-in-one system.
They’re also an extremely involved DIY project. You’ll have to completely reassemble the frame at least once after the initial construction, being careful not to overtighten screws or scratch paint as you go. On top of that, as mentioned, not all convertible cribs come with all the necessary extension pieces for conversion. Those are often sold separately.
One major drawback to convertible cribs is that, if you intend to have more children, you won’t be able to reuse the crib you have, as your first child will still be using it. This may mean additional expenses. It also means having to store many parts for years at a time before they have a chance to be used, making it more likely that they’ll be damaged or wear down.
Buying a convertible crib means that you’re less likely to be able to resell or donate it later, but we’ll talk about that more in a minute. For now, it’s enough to say that convertible cribs are usually a one-and-done product.
Are Convertible Cribs Safe?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that, as mentioned earlier, cribs were first standardized in the seventies, and have had several revisions to federal requirements since then, with the most recent rules coming as of the early 2010s.
Despite this, the standards for a safe crib are still fairly simple:
- The mattress should fit tightly into the frame and be firm.
- The hardware should all be present and in good condition.
- The head- and footboards should be solid – no cutouts.
- The side slats should have gapping smaller than your average soda can, about 2 3/8 inches.
- The sides should be stationary and not easily dropped or moved by mistake.
As long as a convertible crib follows these guidelines and is approved for public use, it is perfectly legal and just as safe as a standard crib would be. In fact, convertible cribs are often tested more rigorously than standard cribs because they need to be designed in such a way that they can handle years of change and handling.
The Difference Between a Convertible Crib and a Drop-Side Crib
The main concern for a convertible crib is the last requirement on the above list. When hearing “convertible,” some parents may think of old-fashioned drop-side cribs and become worried, and for very good reason.
A drop-side crib is a crib that was designed so that one of the side railings can be easily slid up and down for easier access to the baby without having to bend as far. These cribs often had simple locking mechanisms that held the drop side in place when not in use.
Unfortunately, as time went on, it was discovered that these cribs were incredibly dangerous. Over the course of nine years, 32 infants were killed in incidents involving a malfunctioning drop-side crib. The children would become trapped in a gap between the railing and the mattress if it slid out of place, causing them to suffocate.
Because of this, drop-side cribs were outlawed in the United States in 2011. Many manufacturers were required to recall their cribs or send out immobilization devices. Parents were advised to replace their cribs with standard, non-dropping versions, and were told not to donate, resell, or give away their drop-side cribs.
Unlike a drop-side crib, a convertible crib’s sides are held in place by hardware. They aren’t intended to be moved between conversions and require disassembly to be moved. If installed correctly, the sides will not move between conversions. If you do find that the side of your convertible crib is not as stable as you’d like it to be, you should contact the manufacturer immediately.
The Best Convertible Cribs on the Market
So, if you decide to go with a convertible crib, which one should you go with? Well, you’ve got a couple of things to take into consideration. First, you’ll want to set a solid budget; remember, convertible cribs can be expensive, so knowing how much you’re willing to spend will go a long way.
After that, you’ll want to decide exactly how many conversion phases you want. Finally, decide on the size and style you want for your crib.
With all of that in mind, here are some of the best options on the market today:
- If you’re looking for a crib on a tight budget, the Gulliver crib from Ikea might be a good option for you. It can be converted into a toddler bed whenever your child is ready. That being said, it doesn’t have any other conversion phases, so you will need to buy a full-sized bed separately.
- If you’re looking for a smaller model, consider the Dream on Me 4-in-1 Aden mini crib. This crib comes in a variety of colors, and, as the name implies, has four conversion stages (though some of the conversion kits are sold separately).
- For a combination changing station and crib, you might go with the Storkcraft Steveston 4-in-1 crib and changing table. It converts all the way up to a full-sized bed and has plenty of storage space under the changing table to work with.
There are many, many other options, so be sure to take your time and compare brands and models to find the crib that works best for your family.
Should You Buy a Used Convertible Crib?
One of the ways that parents – especially new parents – try to save money is by buying some of the products for their child’s nursery used. The general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t buy a crib used, but if you do end up considering it, make sure you follow these guidelines.
First of all, you shouldn’t be buying the crib in pieces. If you’re considering buying from a local thrift store, online resale marketplace, or even a friend, ask to see the crib fully assembled (and in person) before making a decision. Test it for sturdiness by shaking it and make sure that it has all the necessary hardware. If anything is missing, don’t buy it!
This is especially true for convertible cribs. Because of their long lifespan of use in a single family, buying one secondhand means that you’re more likely to have worn out hardware or malformations that could be dangerous to your baby than you would be with a standard crib. Be extremely thorough when inspecting the crib and don’t be afraid to ask questions about its history.
Speaking of history, make sure that you’re buying a post-2011 crib, as anything before then will likely not meet modern safety standards even if all the pieces are in good working order. You’ll also want to check with the manufacturer to see if conversion kits for that model are still available, as some models are phased out over time and you don’t want to be caught without the means to use your convertible crib.
If the used crib comes with a mattress, make sure the mattress fits snugly into the frame and is in good condition. If you find any problems with the waterproofing or sealing on the mattress, dispose of it and get a new one. Otherwise, you should be able to use a mild disinfectant to clean it.
General Sleep Safety Tips for Your Baby
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the name given to an unexpected death that occurs while the child is sleeping, either from suffocation or an unknown cause. No one should have to experience the loss of a child, so you should know what you can do to keep your baby as safe in their crib as possible.
- Don’t use wedges or positioners in the crib while the baby is sleeping.
- Soft things like stuffed toys, blankets, and bumpers should not be present in the crib – they’re a suffocation risk.
- Place your baby on their back on a firm surface for naps and nighttime, even if they are capable of rolling over.
- Do not leave hats, bibs, or other articles of loose clothing on your baby while they’re sleeping.
- Make sure your baby is comfortable and not likely to overheat, so wearing no more than two layers and sleeping in a room that would be comfortable for an adult.
- If your baby falls asleep in their carrier or swing, or while breastfeeding, move them to their bed on their back as soon as you can.
- Don’t let your baby sleep in your bed. While it’s a good idea to have your baby in the same room for the first year, having them in the bed with you can be dangerous.
- Your baby should be sleeping alone. If you have twins, don’t put them to sleep in the same bed.
Whether you decide on a convertible crib or not, always keep these rules in mind.
Keeping Baby Happy and Safe
You deserve the comfort and security of knowing that your baby is sleeping in the safest and most comfortable place possible, which is why picking the right crib is so important. Convertible cribs allow you to carry that peace of mind through your child’s life and eases the burden of trying to decide when and where to invest in their sleep as they grow.
Ultimately, there isn’t anyone who can tell you the “right” or “wrong” decision when it comes to cribs, or anything else. All we can do is inform you about the options you have.
Whether or not you decide to go with a convertible crib, doing your own research on the types, price ranges, and additional options available to you means that you can be secure in the knowledge that you have made a decision that suits your family’s unique situation.