Crib Safety Guide

Suffocation or strangulation in bed is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children younger than 1, and it's happening to an increasing number of babies each year. The CDC documented 390 incidents (40% of unintentional injury-related deaths) in 2001 and 905 (nearly 76%) in 2020.1 The rate of non-fatal suffocation-related emergency department visits among this age group doubled over the same period.2

The Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) investigated the cause of these injuries and deaths. Drop-side cribs, crib bumpers, and inclined sleepers have been banned in the U.S. as a result. 

But there’s more to crib safety than just avoiding three products. We explain the latest crib safety standards and infant sleep guidelines below.



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Image: Lisa5201, iStockPhoto

How to choose a safe crib

Your old crib may not meet current safety guidelines, so don’t dig it out of your parent’s attic. In fact, the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends always buying cribs less than 10 years old to make sure they’re up to code and aren’t dangerously worn out. 

Use these guidelines when buying a crib, or head on over to our list of the best baby cribs to pick a winner.

  • Don’t use a drop-side crib. They’ve been off the market since 2010 after the CPSC deemed them unsafe due to the risk of strangulation and suffocation.3
  • Don’t use an inclined sleeper. After documenting over 70 infant deaths related to inclined sleepers in a 14-year period,  the CPSC investigated the potential dangers of inclined sleepers. None were deemed safe, and the 2022 Safe Sleep for Babies Act officially banned their manufacture and sale. Always place your baby on a flat, firm surface.4,5
  • Don’t use a crib with missing, loose, or broken hardware. Anything that’s supposed to be bolted down should be bolted down—tightly. Cribs can and do fall apart and cause fatal injuries. Hidden hardware is even better since there’s no risk of injury if your baby scrapes against it. 
  • Don’t use a crib with raised corner posts. All sides of the crib should join together smoothly and neatly so that your baby’s clothes don’t catch on anything once they’re able to stand.
  • Do measure crib slats and cutouts. You shouldn’t be able to pass a soda can between the slats. Slats or cutouts wider than 2 ⅜ inches are considered dangerous.6
  • Do check the recall list if buying a used crib. The CPSC website maintains a list of recalled cribs and crib mattresses.
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Drop-side alternatives

Drop-side cribs were meant to solve a very real problem—getting your little one into and out of the crib without wrenching your back, especially for the vertically challenged among us. Now that drop-sides are out of the picture, the best alternative is a crib with shorter legs, like the Babyletto Hudson.

We also liked the CPSC’s idea of using low, wide-set aerobic exercise steps as a step-stool for a tall crib.7

Image: Rawpixel, iStockPhoto

How to choose safe crib accessories

Next, learn how to choose a safe crib mattress, sheet, and other accessories.

  • Mattresses should fit tightly inside the crib so there’s no chance the baby can get stuck between the side of the crib and the mattress. Gaps should be no larger than the width of two fingers.8
  • Mattresses should be firm. A mattress that’s too soft doesn’t provide enough skeletal support for your baby and may contribute to the risk of SIDS.9
  • Cover mattresses with a tight-fitting sheet. A sheet that’s too loose can get wrapped around your baby and cause strangulation or suffocation.
  • Use pajamas or sleep bags instead of blankets. You can also swaddle a baby that doesn’t roll over yet, but swaddling comes with its own set of precautions. Learn more from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Don’t put any pillows, stuffed animals, or any other items in the crib. Cribs should contain a mattress, mattress sheet, and a baby. That’s it. Anything else increases the risk of suffocation or strangulation. Instead, soothe your baby with a white noise machine or a rocking bassinet, like those recommended in our smart baby gadget round-up.
  • Don’t use wedges or crib bumpers. The 2022 Safe Sleep for Babies Act banned the manufacture and sale of crib bumpers after they were implicated in an increasing number of crib deaths.5,10 You won’t need a bumper anyway if you choose a crib with slats less than 2 ⅜ inches apart.
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What about bassinets?

The same safety rules apply to bassinets: keep them clutter-free and always use a tight-fitting mattress.

Image: Fly View Productions, iStockPhoto

How to practice safe sleep with your baby

Once you’ve got a safe crib and accessories, the final step is to follow safe sleeping guidelines. 

  • Babies under 1 year should always be placed on their backs. Even if your baby can roll over to their tummy and vice versa, always start them off on their back. 
  • Move your baby to the crib or bassinet as soon as possible if they fall asleep anywhere else, such as in a stroller, high chair, car seat, or even in your arms (cute as it is!). 
  • “Room share” instead of “bed share.” There’s a risk of suffocation if you let your baby sleep in your bed with you—not only from the soft mattress, pillows, and blankets, but also from the possibility of you accidentally rolling over onto your little one. The AAP suggests sharing the room instead of sharing the bed. Keep a crib or bassinet in your bedroom so your baby’s nearby but in a safe sleep environment.
  • Don’t fall asleep with your baby in your arms. Doing so on a couch or armchair increases the risk of infant death by 67%.11 It’s hard not to nod off when you have a newborn—making a plan ahead of time can help. Know how you’ll stay awake and who you’ll call on for support. Visit CharliesKids.org for more information.

Make sure everyone who watches your baby understands these dos and don’ts—including the grandparents since some standards have changed over the years. Use them as screening questions when hiring a safe nanny or choosing a daycare too.

Crib safety FAQs

What is a crib bumper?

Crib bumpers are padded walls that prevent babies from getting their heads or arms stuck through the crib slats. Mesh bumpers or liners also exist and are still considered safe as long as they’re securely mounted and have netting less than a quarter inch wide.6

How can I keep an eye on my baby in the crib?

Consider using a video baby monitor and/or a movement monitor to help you watch over your baby when you’re not in the room with them.

Do I need to worry about using special crib paint?

If you want to repaint a crib, choose water-based paint like chalk paint. Water-based paints don’t contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause health problems in people of all ages.12

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WISQARS, “Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional, and State, 1981-2020,” February 2020. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WISQARS, “Explore Nonfatal Injury Data,” February 2020. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  3. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “CPSC Issues Warning on Drop-Side Cribs; 32 Fatalities in Drop-Side Cribs in Last 9 Years,” May 2010. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  4. Erin M. Mannen, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, “Biomechanical Analysis of Inclined Sleep Products,” October 2019. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  5. U.S. Congress, “H.R.3182 - Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021,” May 2021. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  6. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Crib Safety Tips.” Accessed July 14, 2022.
  7. Consumer Product Safety Commission, OnSafety, “Watch and Share: Check Your Crib for Safety,” June 2010. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  8. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Safe Sleep – Cribs and Infant Products.” Accessed July 14, 2022.
  9. EA Mitchell, et al., The New Zealand Medical Journal, “Soft Cot Mattresses and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” June 1996. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  10. NJ Scheers, Ph.D., et al., The Journal of Pediatrics, “Crib Bumpers Continue to Cause Infant Deaths: A Need for a New Approach,” November 2015. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  11. Rachel Moon, American Academy of Pediatrics, “How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained,” July 2022. Accessed July 14, 2022.
  12. Environmental Protection Agency, “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality,” June 2022. Accessed July 14, 2022.
Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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