Safe Sleep, Part 1: The Crib

Since 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled almost 7 million cribs. More than 6 million of those have drop sides.

In December, the group that develops voluntary manufacturing standards for cribs, ASTM, revised their standard to no longer allow the sale of cribs that have a traditional drop side. Then, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and CPSC staff called upon the industry to do even more and create a true state-of-the-art crib standard.

In a two-day workshop on Jan. 19 and 20, ASTM made good progress toward that end. Chairman Tenenbaum has reported to Congress that new mandatory rules for cribs will be established this year.

Understandably, many parents are concerned about crib safety and want answers. Below is a Q&A to help guide you:

What is a drop side?

A drop-side is a movable side of the crib that gives caregivers easier access to the inside of the crib. The traditional drop side consists of a side that slides down to a lower position. Other cribs have movable sides where the the top portion of the side folds down to allow easier access to the inside of the crib. Folding-sided cribs have not had as many problems as cribs with drop sides and are not part of the revised ASTM voluntary standard restriction.

Are all drop-side cribs bad?

The answer isn’t as easy as labeling an entire line of crib products. Here’s why:

We at CPSC hear about the cribs that break. The ones in which children die or get injured. We don’t hear about cribs that are not causing anyone problems. After all, who would complain about a product that’s working as it should? That being said, every week, CPSC receives dozens of incident reports involving drop-side problems in cribs produced by many different manufacturers.

In general, cribs with drop sides have a tendency to be less structurally sound than cribs with fixed sides and are more susceptible to problems from use, being moved, storage and assembly.

How can I tell whether my crib is safe for my baby?

Before you use a crib, check our crib recall list to make sure that the crib has not been recalled. Avoid using older cribs because they may not meet current crib standards. Follow the assembly instructions provided by the manufacturer and make sure that every part is installed correctly. If you don’t have instructions or they are difficult to understand, if a part doesn’t seem to fit right or if you have leftover hardware, call the manufacturer for assistance before using the crib.

Regularly check that all visible hardware – every bolt, screw, track and clamp — is securely in place. Make sure the drop side is on its track. If hardware is loose, tighten it. If a manufacturer-supplied screw falls out, don’t replace it with your own. Your home repair screw hasn’t been tested on the crib and can loosen or fall out.

If one side of your crib is loose, do not push the loose side against a wall and continue to use the crib. That wall, along with a loose side, can create a small space in which a child can get caught and smother. Instead, stop using the crib.

crib with loose side pushed against wall

This crib had an unattached side and was pushed against a wall as a solution to the problem. A baby fell into the space, suffocated and died.

How do I check my crib?

Loose wood-to-wood joints make cribs unsafe.

Loose wood-to-wood joints make cribs unsafe.

Every time you change the sheets, make sure there are no gaps larger than two fingers between the sides of the crib and the mattress. Make sure all visible bolts and screws are tight. With the mattress out of the crib, wiggle the crib to see how tight all the joints are. If the crib feels loose, wobbly or structurally not sound, tighten all hardware. If the crib remains wobbly after tightening, look for loose wood-to-wood joints that may be causing the problem. Stop using the crib if loose wood-to-wood joints are found.

What about fixing it myself?

Duct taped crib in which a child died

Duct tape, along with all other homemade crib fixes, stretch, loosen or break. This repaired crib was involved in the death of a child.

Do not try to fix broken cribs. Do-it-yourself crib repair is always a dangerous repair that can be deadly. Untested screws can loosen (no matter how tight they may be). All kinds of tape, wire and zip ties stretch, no matter how tight a person makes them initially. Cribs are built to meet specific safety standards. By making your own repairs, you may introduce new problems. Babies can be caught in the spaces that result. Do not use broken or modified cribs, these cribs are deadly traps. About 30 percent of crib deaths annually are because cribs are missing hardware, have broken or non-working parts or have had ineffective repairs made to them. As heartbreaking as it sounds, police have opened criminal investigations of parents who had tried to repair broken cribs after babies died in those cribs.

Proper assembly of cribs is paramount. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and make sure that every part is installed correctly. If the instructions are not clear, call the company that made the crib.

My crib has a drop side but I don’t use the drop side. Do I still need to check my crib?

Yes, you should always do regular checks on your crib to make sure that components are tight and not broken. Parts can still break, causing gaps, even if the drop side is not used.

Is metal hardware safer than plastic hardware?

Metal hardware is not necessarily safer. The problems of loose parts that occur with cribs can happen regardless of the type of hardware used. With rare exceptions, the difference
between metal hardware and plastic is that, with typical use, metal hardware can loosen whereas plastic hardware can both loosen and break.

My crib has broken, missing or warped parts. Now what?

Stop using the crib and contact the manufacturer and CPSC. Check our list of crib recalls to see if your crib has been recalled; you may be entitled to a refund or replacement. Even if no injury or incident has occurred, you can also report product complaints to CPSC on the Web or by phone at (800) 638-2772.

Stop using my crib? So where do I put my baby to sleep?

If your baby is less than six months old and is not yet able to push up to his/her hands and knees, you can put your baby to sleep in a bassinet. Make sure your bassinet has not been recalled. Here’s a list. Also, you can use a play yard. Do not put additional bedding such as pillows, thick quilts, comforters or anything plush into your baby’s sleeping space. More babies die every year from suffocation in plush sleeping environments than from defective cribs. Once your child is mobile and is climbing out, use a toddler bed or mattress on the floor.

Do you have a crib question that hasn’t been answered here? E-mail it to feedback@cpsc.gov and I’ll address it in a future blog.

Coming Soon: Safe Sleep, Part 2: Bedding, Crib Placement and Other Questions Answered

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