All new cribs sold in stores today in the United States must meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s national standards, last updated in June 2011. If you have an older crib that still seems useful for a new baby, check it out against the requirements of the National Safety Council (see References). The council is a nonprofit organization with the mission of saving lives by preventing injuries, and its requirements include all of the CPSC's recommendations.
The first step in your safety inspection is the crib itself. Measure the space between the slats. Spacing wider than 2 3/8 inches can allow a small body to slip through, while catching a larger head. Similarly, avoid cribs with end panels containing decorative cutouts. Compare the height of the corner posts and the end panels, looking for an exact match or for posts no more than 1/16 of an inch higher than the end panels. The CPSC’s 2011 standards ban the sale and manufacture of all drop-side rails, a feature of most used cribs. While the CPSC also recommends against using older cribs with drop-side rails, many manufacturers will retrofit you with a free drop-side immobilization device (see Resources).
The mattress is the next area to get your attention -- give it the two-finger test. If two of your fingers fit between the mattress and the crib, don’t use it. Your goal is a snug fit. Other recommendations from the NSC involve bedding and baby’s sleep position. Avoid hand-made plastic mattress covers such as dry-cleaning bags -- they can suffocate a child. Look for a firm, flat mattress and always put your baby on his back for sleeping.
Another updated safety standard included in the NSC requirements is improved crib hardware. In new cribs, the guidelines call for stronger mattress supports and slats, and more durable hardware such as brackets, screws, nuts and bolts. If you are buying a used crib, inspect all the hardware for sharp or jutting edges. Test the crib's stability by giving it a few gentle shakes. You want firmly attached support hangers and brackets, as well as tightly fitting joints and parts.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not using bumper pads in a crib, the NSC issues guidelines for their use. Bumper pads need at least six snaps or tie straps, with any excess straps removed. Inspect the teething rail, and remove, fix or replace any damaged parts. As your baby grows strong enough to get on all fours or pull herself up -- around 5 months -- get rid of any mobiles hanging over the crib. Keep the crib free of plastic sheets, large stuffed animals, pillows or any large toys that could suffocate or be used as a step for getting out of the crib.
The NSC also makes general safety recommendations. Disassemble and dispose of any antique cribs that don’t meet today’s safety standards. To avoid entanglement, keep your baby’s crib away from drapery cords, curtains, blinds and baby monitor cords. Install a smoke detector in the room, testing it monthly. Be on the lookout for lead on old paint on walls and cribs, as well as on new items imported from countries with less stringent standards. For questions or concerns about this health hazard, call the National Safety Council at 800-424-5323. Finally, carefully inspect the cribs your child sleeps in when away from home -- at grandparents, hotels and day care.