Crib Safety Checklist: Choosing A Safe Crib + Creating A Safe Sleep Space

September is Baby Safety Month, and Ready. Set. Food! is committed to helping you keep your baby safe inside and outside of the home.

Baby’s going to spend countless hours in their crib – how to make their sleep space as safe as possible? Follow this crib safety checklist to choose, set up, and use a crib safely.

Baby’s going to spend countless hours in their crib – meaning it’s extremely important to know how to choose and set up the safest crib you can. If a crib isn’t up to date on safety standards, or you place something unsafe for baby inside or nearby, baby could be at risk for suffocation, entrapment, strangulation, or a fall.

Follow this checklist to keep baby safe in their crib – and when you’re finished, rest assured that you’re making the right decisions about baby's sleep space.

Choosing Your Baby's Crib

Choosing a new crib is best, as it's most likely to comply with up-to-date safety standards. But you can safely use some secondhand cribs as well, as long as they pass the tests below.

Start by checking the quality of the crib.

  • Only buy a crib that is less than 10 years old. Many older cribs don't meet the most recent safety standards.
  • The crib you choose must not have any missing or broken pieces, and must have all original parts.
    • There should be no sharp points or edges on the crib.
    • There should be no cracks or splits.
    • The crib must be unmodified.

Make sure the crib is non-toxic.

  • Choose a crib made of completely non-toxic materials and paints. Babies will commonly try to teethe on crib parts.

Check the mattress.

  • The crib's mattress must be firm. It should quickly spring back when you push down on it.
  • Make sure that there are no big gaps between the crib sides and mattress. Gaps could trap parts of baby's body.
    • The area between the mattress and crib should be tight – the mattress should be a perfect fit for the crib.
    • Use the two finger test: any gaps between crib and mattress should be no bigger than two fingers wide.

Check the height of the sides.

  • Crib sides must be at least 26 inches taller than the mattress at all times (including if the mattress is moved up and down).

Check the bars.

  • The spaces in between all the bars of the crib must be smaller than 2 ⅜ inches (smaller than the width of a soda can), so baby's head and body won't get trapped in a gap.

Check the corner posts.

  • The corner posts should have smooth tops.
  • These posts should either be equal in height to the top of the headboard, or be at least 16 inches taller than the headboard.
    • If a post is not flush with the headboard or not tall enough, it could catch baby’s clothing and lead to strangulation.

Know what to avoid completely.

  • Never use a crib with a drop side (a side that slides up and down). These cribs aren't allowed to be made and sold anymore, because babies have been trapped and strangled in the gap that the drop side created.
  • Avoid cribs with decorative cut-outs on the sides, headboard, or footboard. Baby could get trapped in those cut-outs. (Decorative cut-out cribs can't be made and sold anymore for that reason).
  • Make sure that a crib has not been recalled.

Creating A Safe Sleep Space

Choosing a safe crib is an important start for keeping baby safe during sleep, but there are several other things to keep in mind to make sure baby’s sleep space is as safe as possible.

Setting up the crib

  • It’s best to set the crib up in the same room as you (the parents) sleep.
  • Once you’ve set it up, make sure the crib is stable and correctly assembled. It should not wiggle or wobble when you try to shake it. An unstable or incorrectly assembled crib could pose an entrapment or suffocation risk if it falls apart.

Baby should sleep alone in their crib

  • Baby should sleep by themself, in their crib. They must never share a crib with another young child, and they should not sleep in the adult bed with you.

Keep the crib bare

  • Baby’s crib should be bare. The only bedding that’s safe to use in the crib is a fitted sheet, to cover the mattress.
  • Never place blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or any other loose items in the crib. They put baby at risk for suffocation.

Remember: “Back to sleep” for the safest sleep

Know when you can safely swaddle

  • It’s fine to swaddle a very young baby before putting them in the crib, but it isn’t safe to swaddle a baby who has started to roll over.
  • If baby is rolling over, it’s safe to dress them in a “wearable blanket” that leaves their arms and legs free.

Stay away from unsafe crib devices

  • Never use crib bumpers. These are another type of loose object that could suffocate baby – and they also pose a strangulation and entrapment risk. In addition, there’s the danger that an older baby could use the bumper to climb out of the crib. Crib bumpers were banned from sale in 2022 because of these risks.
  • Don’t use devices that let baby sleep on an incline. These devices are dangerous. Baby could end up with their chin on their chest, a position that blocks their airway. They could also get trapped under the device, or between the mattress and crib side. The safest sleep position for baby is flat on their back.
  • Stay away from “crib positioners.” If baby is in one of these positioners and they end up on their stomach, they could suffocate because the positioner keeps them from lifting their head. They could also end up suffocating if their nose and mouth press against the soft surface and their airways get blocked.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital shares more on unsafe crib devices to avoid:

Make sure the surroundings are safe

  • Don’t hang anything on or near the crib that has a dangling string. These objects could strangle baby.
  • Don’t place baby’s crib near a window. Curtains, curtain cords, and blinds are all strangulation risks. Plus, there’s the risk that baby could climb out an open window and have a serious fall.
  • Don’t place baby’s crib in a location where baby could grab electrical cords.
  • It’s ok to use a mobile to entertain younger babies, but the mobile must be well-attached to the wall, crib rail, or ceiling so it doesn’t fall. It must also be completely out of baby’s reach, so baby can’t grab it.
    • Once baby is 5 months old, or once baby can get up on their hands and knees, you’ll need to remove the mobile.

Lower the mattress when needed

  • Once baby can sit up, you’ll need to lower the mattress so baby can’t fall out when they lean over the side, and can’t pull themself over the side.
  • Before baby starts learning to stand, move the mattress to the lowest possible position.

Perform weekly crib checks

  • Check the crib weekly to make sure nothing has broken, is missing, or has gotten loose.
    • Stop using a crib if anything is broken or missing.
    • Tighten things up if the crib is loose.

Know when it’s time for your child to graduate from the crib

  • Once your little one is 35 inches tall (or the height of the side rail is less than ¾ of their height – shorter than the height of their chest), it’s no longer safe for them to remain in the crib as they’re at heightened risk for falls. Time for your little one to transition out of the crib and into a big kid bed!

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