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When you think buying for baby, you think crib. Really you don’t need to buy a crib before baby is born: co-sleeping in a bassinet or baby-proofed parent bed will be an option for a couple of months. But a crib isn’t something you want to buy on impulse. After diapers (and possibly formula and a college fund) it’ll probably be your most expensive baby buy, and it pays to do your homework.
If you’re buying new, first measure the place where the crib will go, a spot that’s out of the way of heating and air conditioning vents and direct sunlight. It can help to draw the room on graph paper if you plan to add other furniture too.
Then figure out what features you want. A crib that converts to a toddler bed? One that’s low to the floor for safety once baby can climb out, or one where the mattress is higher up that’ll make it easier for you to pick up baby and change the sheets?
And before you drop a few hundred bucks, search for recalls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site and check parent reviews. Putting a crib together is a relationship-challenging two-person job that can last an hour or more. Make sure you set the crib up in the room where it is to stay, since many are too large to be moved out of rooms without being disassembled. Crib mattresses are sold separately, and fortunately only come in one size.
When you know you’re looking for, buying online can be really convenient. Just keep in mind what shipping costs might be if you have to return it, and that there’s a way to reach the company if you have questions or problems with assembly.
An advantage to buying in a store is that you can examine the quality of crib components, such as well-glued slats and sturdy hardware, and make sure that the rails and finish can stand up to being gnawed by a teething baby. More features to pay attention to:
- Fixed sides. The CPSC recalled millions of drop-side cribs in 2010 and advised parents against buying any and all drop-side crib models. Most pre-2010 cribs will be drop-sided, so before you buy or adopt a used crib make sure it was made after 2010 and has not been recalled.
- Frame integrity. Make sure the frame doesn’t rattle when shaken. The bars (slats) should be well fastened and should not twist or move.
- Finish. All surfaces should be smooth and splinter-free.
- Well-glued slats. Slats, or bars, should be firmly attached. Glue residue spilled out onto the wood or splinters are signs of sloppy craftsmanship.
- Teething rails. Most crib models have a small plastic railing to line the tops of the railings on the sides. They aren’t necessary, but if your crib has one, check it doesn’t have sharp edges and can’t be pulled loose.
- Mattress supports. The metal support that goes under the mattress should be sturdy with no sharp points that could puncture the underside of the mattress. Make sure it fastens to the crib with solid hardware.
- Locking wheels. Wheels are hugely helpful, but need to be lockable to keep baby’s motion from moving the crib.
- Underside storage drawer. Storage drawers that slide or roll out from under the crib can be really handy, especially if baby’s room is small.
When it comes to bedding, avoid fluffy and expensive bumper-and-comforter sets. Both crib bumpers and blankets have been found to increase the risk of SIDS. All you really need are 2-3 fitted sheets for the crib mattress, some baby sleepers and optionally a mattress-protecting cover to keep you from having to remove and sanitize the mattress in case of throw-ups or diaper blow-outs.
For more on baby sleep, check out our Baby Sleep Guide!