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Crib Safety

Mark A. Brandenburg, MD Author of Child Safe : A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries
Go to http://www.BabyandChildSafety.com for more information on this book.

Your baby's crib should be a haven of safety and comfort. He will certainly spend many hours here, both at play and at sleep. A good crib,you will find, is a place where you can keep your baby safe while sleeping or taking some time for yourself.

Government manufacturing standards set in 1973 have greatly improved crib safety; so most new cribs sold in the U.S. are very safe. Despite this, cribs continue to be associated with the highest child injury rates of any nursery item. Approximately 50 infants each year are killed and another 9,000 are injured in crib-related accidents in the U.S.

Safety, Safety, Safety!

When shopping for your baby's crib the three top features to consider are safety, safety and then safety. Once you have found several safe cribs to choose from, then and only then should you consider shape, style, and color. Make safety the top priority when searching for your baby's crib.

Does Your Crib Measure Up?

Regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission are required to insure crib safety. Before you purchase a crib be sure the following safety standards are met.

  • The vertical bars or slats must be no further apart than two and three-eighth inches or 60 mm, to prevent infants from slipping through or becoming stuck between them. An infant's head is relatively larger than the rest of his body and could become stuck between bars that are too far apart if his body slips through.

  • Any openings at the end walls of your crib, such as decorative cutouts, must not exceed two and three-eighth inches, because they might also allow an infant's body to slip through.

  • If a vertical bar on a crib side is broken off, the gap between the remaining bars will likely be dangerous to an infant inside. Be sure the crib bars are sturdy and intn. If you cannot correct the defects, destroy such a crib rather than sell it. Do this to protect other infants in your community.

Cribs on Rollers

Cribs on rollers can be dangerous if older children are in the home. Playful siblings, who might be inclined to push a crib around, could tip it over or push it down a flight of stairs. Also, by leaning against a wheeled crib you might inadvertently shove it away from you. Hardwood floors allow for easy rolling with such cribs so be extra careful here, too. Obviously a crib without any wheels is the safest way to go. Look for a crib with casters that can lock the wheels and prevent rolling, or better yet , get a crib with no wheels at all.

Crib Mattresses & Mattress Covers

The two most important qualities in a crib mattress are firmness and fit. A firm mattress is necessary in order to minimize the risk of suffocation. If a mattress is too soft it can allow an infant's mouth and nose to be engulfed in the fabric. An infant could then be at risk for re-breathing his own exhaled air that is high in carbon dioxide and low in oxygen, leading to extreme drowsiness, coma or even death. Soft mattresses have been responsible for some deaths that were initially attributed to SIDS. This is part of the reason your baby should not sleep face down. Always place your infant face up when he sleeps.

Mattress Size

A mattress should fit snugly against each side of the crib. A mattress that does not properly fit the crib can pose a risk to an infant who might crawl beneath it. If you can fit two side-by-side fingers between the side of the crib and the mattress, the mattress is too small. The standard mattress size is 51 5/8" x 27 1/4". Be sure your baby's mattress fits his crib.

Mattress Hangers

Mattress hangers support the floor of the crib and can be used to lower or raise the mattress to a desired height. As your infant grows taller, you will need to lower the floor of the crib to prevent him from climbing out. Be sure each hanger is always securely fastened to the corners of the crib.

Bumper Pads

Mattress bumper pads are soft cushions that fit around the inside of a crib and help prevent your baby from hitting his head against the crib bars. Secure all bumper pads to the crib and cut the strings as short as possible after being tied. This will eliminate the danger of strangulation. Once your infant can pull himself up, remove all pads and crib toys, to keep him from standing on them in attempts to climb from the crib.

Mattress Covers

Mattress covers have also been associated with suffocation injuries. Be sure the mattress cover in your crib is made of a tough material that cannot be torn or punctured. This will prevent your infant from crawling beneath. Never use plastic garbage bags as mattress covers. They are much too weak. Tie into knots and discard any plastic wrapping material that came with your new crib. Several suffocation deaths have been caused by wrapping material that was left lying around.

Crib Cushions, Quilts & Comforters

Crib accessories such as cushions, quilts and comforters with their bright colors and designs can certainly beautify any room. They may seem harmless at first, but the dangers they pose to infants are very real. Nearly 2,000 cases of infant suffocation each year are caused by cushions, quilts and comforters. Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission placed a manufacturing and sales ban on crib cushions, crib pillows and crib comforters. Never place cushions, quilts and comforters in your baby's crib.

So, what can you put in your infant's crib? Limit what you put in your baby's crib to small, age-appropriate toys, a crib bumper that is properly secured and a pacifier. If you dress him in a cozy, warm body suit you will only need a lightweight cotton blanket to keep him warm. Such blankets are porous and present the least risk of smothering a baby. When using a light blanket, tuck it around the mattress at the foot of the bed allowing it only to cover up to your baby's chest. The safest bet, however, is to use sleepwear rather than a blanket.

Using Your Crib Correctly

No matter how sturdy and well built, a crib is only as safe as the parents who use it. Keep crib safety in mind and remember a few basic rules.

  • Always raise the crib sides to full height and lock them when your infant is inside.
  • If a drop-side does not have a locking, hand-operated latch, replace it.

  • Once your infant is able to sit unassisted, adjust the floor of the crib to a lower position. And when he can stand put the floor in it's lowest position in order to prevent him from climbing out.

  • Avoid placing large toys and pillows in your baby's crib. They might just enable him to climb out.

  • When your child reaches a height of 32 to 35 inches (usually about two years of age), he should no longer sleep in a crib, because it may no longer hold him. Your toddler could outgrow a crib due to his size or activity level well before reaching this height, so pay attention to his physical abilities and look for signs that he may be learning to escape. For instance, if he can pull herself up off the crib floor by grabbing the crib sides or if he can climb up the sides, he is too big and strong for a crib. When this occurs, he should then begin sleeping in a toddler bed.

Crib Location

The location of your baby's crib is of extreme importance. It is tempting to move the crib next to a large piece of furniture so diapers, clothing and other accessories are close by. However, placing a crib next to a dresser or other piece of furniture puts your infant at risk of getting wedged in between the two pieces of furniture if he climbs from the crib. This same type of injury can also occur if a crib is placed against a wall.

Another dangerous location for a crib is next to a long drapery cord. Strangulation injury can occur when a crib is situated too close to any type of window dressing pull cord.

  • Pull your crib at least one foot away from all furniture and walls.
  • Never place your baby's crib next to a drapery or window blind cord.

Crib Maintenance

Frequent inspections of your baby's crib will help you identify wear and tear before an injury occurs.

  • Periodically check the slats and end-boards to be sure they are not loose and check all nuts and bolts, tightening them when necessary.

  • Be sure no screws or nails are protruding from the wood as they can catch your baby's clothing or scratch his skin.

  • If your crib has defects that cannot be fixed, dismantle it and throw it away. This will prevent it from being used by another family. Never sell a bad crib. The few dollars you gain will not be worth the injury that may be caused to somebody else's baby.

Mark A. Brandenburg, MD

Emergency Physician at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Board Certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine

Fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM)

Author of CHILD SAFE: A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries Go to http://www.BabyandChildSafety.com for information about this book.

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