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Not-So-Safe Cribs

Cribs: They're not the safe sleeping environments we all imagine them to be. That's the crux of a series of Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls of more than 5 million cribs over the past few years, including 96,000 cribs manufactured by Jardine today. CPSC staff is reviewing dozens of drop-side related crib deaths that have occurred in the past two years. And while work is underway to revise manufacturing guidelines and federal rules designed to guarantee safer cribs, the status quo leaves lots for parents of new babies to consider. Rather than make everyone go through pages of documents and hours of Web casts, I thought I'd bring you all up to date on the latest information.

First, it's important to state ... as many have in interviews with me over the past week and during a Consumer Product Safety Commission roundtable that I watched last week, that cribs kept devoid of blankets, pillows and other soft decorations -- even with their flaws -- are still considered a safer sleep environment than co-sleeping in an adult bed or on a couch. For more on safe cribs, the CPSC has a Crib Information page. Co-sleeping deaths in Milwaukee recently sparked the city to embark on an anti-co-sleeping campaign.

Second, while the current CPSC focus is on full-sized cribs right now, portable play yards and bassinets won't be far behind. They also pose safety risks and have faced safety recalls.

The two main issues with cribs these days beyond a continuing set of lead paint recalls are entrapment issues, most often with drop-side cribs, and breaking slats.

Crib entrapments happen, says Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association executive director Michael Dwyer, because of misassembly by us consumers. We lose parts and directions as we disassemble and reassemble cribs between children or moves. The JPMA is a group that certifies that cribs meet voluntary ASTM International standards. The ASTM group, meanwhile, has been working on revising its crib-making standards in light of the recalls and other crib-rulemaking work that's happening.

As crib parts loosen or come apart, gaps are created between the sides of the crib and the mattress. An infant can then roll into those gaps, get stuck and suffocate. The size of crib mattresses are not regulated, so regardless of your crib style, you should always make sure that the mattress fits in firmly with no gaps.

While an ASTM task force working to address drop-side standards has recommended the elimination of drop-sides in favor of a hinged drop gate for easy crib access, Dwyer does not know whether that voluntary standard will be adopted. Dwyer points to some crib manufacturers who believe their drop-side cribs are safe as potential naysayers of such a requirement. Retailers and consumers, however, may become a driving force for manufacturers. Earlier this month, Toys "R" Us announced that it had stopped ordering drop-side cribs because of safety concerns. Dwyer says that drop-side cribs have become a smaller part of the new crib sale market in recent years as parents opt instead for cribs that convert into beds.

Breaking slats, such as those that have happened with cribs manufactured by Jardine, are manufacturing defects and a lack of quality control, says Michelle Gillice in the Office of the Attorney General for the CPSC. In these cases babies and toddlers have quite literally kicked the slats apart, says CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson.

While crib manufacturers like to portray the problem with cribs as one of consumer misuse, Nancy Cowles, the executive director of Kids in Danger has another view:

"Contrary to what manufacturers would say is their expectation – there is not a consumer out there who expects to pay anywhere from $200 to over $1,000 for a crib, use it for two years for one child and then destroy it," Cowles said at the CPSC roundtable. "In reality almost every crib is used for more than one child, for more than two years. Here are the facts of consumer use:
Parents will use a crib, bassinet and portable crib for more than one child. They will offer these products to their family and friends and even sell them secondhand. ... It isn’t a sign of neglect or ‘bad’ parents that a crib is assembled, disassembled and reassembled more than once. if your crib can’t handle being reassembled – don’t sell it. If your product falls apart, loses screws or little safety plugs, or has a drop side that won’t stay up – parents are going to try to fix it. Give them a product that lasts, hardware that doesn’t fall out and clear instructions on how to use the product."

Researching all this brought me back to our crib days. A key selling point for me was a hands-free drop side. I'm 5'2" and can't reach to the bottom of the crib without that drop. Like many cribs, our drop-side malfunctioned at some point with our first child. Who knows if it was during his bouts of trying to climb out of the crib, jumping up and down inside the thing or well before then. In any event, the issue seemed minor enough that we saw no problem with continuing to use the crib for child No. 2. Thankfully, that crib got destroyed by a falling tree before we handed it down to someone else -- which I'm certain I would have done.

What "little" problems did you encounter with your crib? Did you patch it and/or pass it on?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 30, 2009; 7:45 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
Previous: A Kid's-Eye View on Talking to Us | Next: In Praise of 'Bad Mothers' and 'Bad Fathers'


I have to admit we have a drop side crib that we used for my daughter first and now my son. I like the drop side because I am small and can't reach the baby if the side is up completely. It never dawned on me to get one that I can't reach down and pick the baby up from.

I have to say, most parents are going to use the crib for more than one baby. I don't know anyone that goes out and buys a second crib. Which is more reason to get one that it is not going to mess up your decor.

I figured I was going to donate the crib when I was done with it. Most parents that I know, want to purchase their own crib for safety reasons as well as matching other nursery furniture. So I have no one to give it to. I am not too worried about our drop side malfunctioning. I keep a good eye on it. Baby boy is 10 months old and will probably only be in the crib for another 8 months.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 30, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

We never had an issue with our drop down crib. It was my nephew's crib, our kids used it and then it went to my cousin who has younger kids. Why can't there be some type of slide lock on the side that drops so that it won't slip? Ours kind of just hitched up and stayed.

BTW, you're never going to prevent all the crib problems as long as there is assembly and re-assembly by consumers.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 30, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

We have a drop-side crib (like the other posters, I"m too short for a crib that doesn't drop). We've used ours for three years and have experienced no problems. And when my baby grows out of the crib, you'd better believe I'll try to sell it, donate it, or pass it on. If cribmakers are making products that can't stand up to years of use, then thy should be pricing them like disposables.

Posted by: newsahm | April 30, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

"While crib manufacturers like to portray the problem with cribs as one of consumer misuse..."

The CPSC is charged with considering forseeable misuse in their analyses. No matter how much manufactuerers blame it on misuse, Ms. Cowles has it right. They might consider it misuse, but its a reasonably forseeable misuse, which means it must be acounted for.

Posted by: rubytuesday | April 30, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

we have a drop down side and it's never had a problem.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | April 30, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

If you make something foolproof, somebody will just invent a better fool...

For our oldest we used the crib that DW and her siblings all slept in. Oh no, charge me with child abuse. :-)

For the other three, we used a drop-side crib that we bought from a thrift store at the Air Force Academy. Oh, no, lock us away forever. :-)

On a serious note, that drop-side crib was kind of tricky to assemble but we always took the time and did it right. Those engineer genes, I guess.

It goes without saying that through four kids we never had a problem with either of those cribs.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | April 30, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I am barely 5' tall, and saw no reason to purchase a dropside crib for my child simply for my convenience. I choose a solid convertible crib instead. I have never ever had a problem with reaching my child in the crib, regardless of the mattress setting. When she was first born it was on the highest setting, and as she became more mobile, we adjusted it to lower settings accordingly. Currently, it is on the lowest setting, and I still have no issues with reaching the mattress or her. The crib sides are of appropriate height for safety regulations as well. If I had purchased a dropside crib, I definitely would not pass it on to another person.

Posted by: audtee | April 30, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

We have a drop-side crib for the same reason that others have mentioned. The cribs with hinged gates are just too high to be able to comfortably reach the baby once you start to move the mattress down. We tried it in the store and my husband (who is 5'10") could barely reach the mattress when it was in the lowest position. We've had no problems with the drop side either, but we made sure we were buying from a company that met both sets of the voluntary standards (I don't remember who sets them, but basically they were the only crib manufacturer to meet them). We plan on using it for baby #2, but have also been really careful not to lose parts, instructions, etc.
I have to agree that the manufacturers should be taking normal consumer behavior into husband's family offered us a crib from the 80's, but since we couldn't get instructions for putting it together, we said no thanks. When we visited my parents, we used the same travel crib that I used as a baby 32 years ago (Oh the horror!)! I also think that many parents do not know how to check out an older crib to make sure it is still safe...maybe this is because of information overload during pregnancy and the first year?

Posted by: rmdjk811 | April 30, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

We co-slept with our two. Co-sleeping is safe. The only deaths from roll-overs have happened when the parents were using drugs or alcohol. SIDS is lower in co-sleeping babies, possibly because as a study from New Zealand found several years ago, babies have more CO receptors in their nasal passages and if their sleeping rhythm is off, mother puffs on the baby in the sleep and gets the baby's breathing regulated again. It is natural the world over to sleep with one's baby and wholly un-natural to segregate him/her in a crib in another room.

Posted by: howdydoody1 | April 30, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

What expertise does the CPSC have in saying that co-sleeping is more dangerous than crib sleeping? If I remember correctly, the study that the CPSC did on co-sleeping was highly controversial and the vice-director of the agency even criticized it... How about some current information on co-sleeping being an inferior choice?

Posted by: Sock1 | April 30, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

We have a recalled Delta Love crib that's assembled and awaiting use by our newborn. I did the recall fix the company sent, but we also had a slat break in the 18 months between this child and when our older son stopped using it. We fixed it with wood glue and plan to keep an eye on it. Right now baby is in a Pack and Play in our room to make the night feedings easier.

Personally, I think the crib manufactures should offer to replace the cribs with something safer. Like Stacy's story says, we bought our crib expecting it to last for multiple children. We even bought a crib that was anointed a Consumer Reports Best Buy for being affordable, and, allegedly, safe. We researched safety issues, did all the CR safety checks before we bought it, and have been very, very careful storing it. (I have no idea how a slat broke.)

The best part of the whole sales experience was the salesperson calling me a bad mother because I wanted to buy a cheaper crib with a better safety rating. Direct quote: "Do you really want to lay that precious baby down in the cheapest crib we have?" Ick. Turns out the more expensive were recalled just like the cheaper one, so even buying a more expensive crib is no promise that it's safe.

For those of you who think you're too short to not use the drop-side, I'm not sure anyone is tall enough once you put the mattress on that lowest level. I'm nearly 5'9" and when we put the mattress on the lowest level I STILL had to use the drop side to put my son to bed. Luckily by that point he was generally awake when we put him in the crib, so if I didn't want to use the drop side he could put his feet down and then lay down himself.

Posted by: sjneal | April 30, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

What is a "drop-side" crib?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 30, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

A "drop side" crib is one with latches underneath the long sides of the crib that you can push in (either with your hand, foot or knee) to release the side of the crib. The side then drops down allowing you to comfortably bend over and pick up the baby or change the sheets.

We used the same crib my husband slept in when he was a kid. I believe it may predate the Consumer Product Safety Commission itself! It would not meet regulations. The slats are more than 2 and 3/8 inches apart. They are more like 3 1/2". The slat space was never a problem since we didn't put our kids in the crib until they were about 7-8 months old.

At that point, they were old enough to sit or pull themselves up, so we only dropped the sides when we had to change the sheets.

The old crib is heavy. The latch is solid steel. It has now been used on five kids over the past 50 years and could be used for another 50.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 30, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel: One side slides down for easier access.

Posted by: StaceyGarfinkle | April 30, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

We have a drop side crib, but once it was unassembled for a move and reassembled, it didn't stay up, so I now have it not able to drop at all. If we have another, I will raise the mattress up, but leave the side fixed as is and get a step stool as needed. I actually prefer it without the drop side-not sure why I didn't just buy one like that in the first place!

Posted by: Laura118 | April 30, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Call me a "bad mommy." We're using a hand-me-down crib that is probably on its 5th child. There is a stamp on it that says it was manufactured in 1996. The "drop-side" mechanism is loud and clunky (I think "drop-side" means that the side rails can be lowered) owing to the big metal bar that clicks in to hold the side up. We debated getting a new one, but decided that it was safe. We used the money we saved to buy a good new mattress that fits tightly.

Posted by: skm1 | April 30, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

howdydoody, co-sleeping may be safe, at some point the kid is too squirmy to get a decent sleep! With both of our kids, as babies they part co-slept, part in crib in our room. As toddlers, in crib all the time in our room (except for snuggles after 5 am!)

When potty trained, out o fcrib and in their own bed in their own room. It works for us.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | April 30, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"If your product falls apart, loses screws or little safety plugs, or has a drop side that won’t stay up – parents are going to try to fix it."

Then parents are stupid, and it is a pity that their defenseless kids have to pay for their almost Darwinist boneheadedness. I read about some of these crib deaths that Stacey neglects to detail --- one of them involved a broken crib that the parents patched with duct tape. DUCT TAPE. They put their kid inside, and the child got tangled in it and died. The parents then sued the crib manufacturer.

As a parent, I am all for safer products for children --- but you can't legislate against stupid behavior, which *is* where most of the problems lie.

Posted by: Pantoufle | April 30, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

These child safety issues seem to be becoming more like a scam:

Year 1: "This is the safest product yet"
Year 4: "This is the safest product yet, and the previous one we said was really safe actually isn't"
Year 7: "Yeah, what we said in Year 4."

Posted by: ah___ | April 30, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

babies have more CO receptors in their nasal passages and if their sleeping rhythm is off, mother puffs on the baby in the sleep and gets the baby's breathing regulated again.

Posted by: howdydoody1 | April 30, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Is the mother that "puffs" on the baby a human mother?

" It is natural the world over to sleep with one's baby and wholly un-natural to segregate him/her in a crib in another room."

The "natural" world is without mercy. Of any kind.

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 30, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

howdydoody, I am all for co-sleeping, but I wish you hadn't felt the need to justify it by saying that it is "wholly un-natural to segregate him/her in a crib in another room." Co-sleeping occurs all over the world in a variety of conditions, including situations where there _isn't_ another room. We co-slept for the first couple of months, but by 3 months our daughter was very happily sleeping in her crib in her room. It was because she was falling asleep more quickly and sleeping more soundly in her crib that we (reluctantly) gave up co-sleeping. Perhaps it is because she spent the first 3 weeks of her life in the NICU and sleeping by herself was not unfamiliar. The point is that different children are different.

So, topic? We have a sliding drop-side crib (that is, the side goes down vertically; it doesn't fold out) that we were given by friends. It is extremely sturdy, has all its parts, works beautifully, and is not on any recall lists. We're happy with it.

Posted by: kakib | April 30, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

We had a reasonably priced drop side crib for both of our children. We never had any problem with the side dropping unexpectedly and both boys leaned on it pretty good when they started climbing out. My husband and I would periodically check that nothing was loose and tighten if needed. We did pass it along to someone else.

If you duct tape a crib to repair it then you are a moron. Most of this stuff is common sense. If the mattress doesn't fit right then get one that does. If something breaks replace the crib. Unless it's something that you can get a replacement part from the manufacturer for and make the repair.

Posted by: Vienna8425 | April 30, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

If you make something foolproof, somebody will just invent a better fool...

Ha! I love it.

we really don't have the bandwidth to try achieve 100% safety in our lives. every product in the world has risk associated.

i don't wait for the government to tell me something is safe. i use my common sense and do the best i can.

(and co-sleeping advocates: knock yourself out! i'll take my 8hrs of sleep over your ultra-bonded family)

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | April 30, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

We didn't have a crib issue, but the bassinet we used with our daughter was later recalled. I found the recall online, which said there was a risk a baby could become entrapped between two of the metal bars on one side. Accompanying the warning was an ominous looking picture of a doll, head stuck between the bars, legs dangling outside the bassinet. As bad as this looked, what was truly perplexing was how a child could find themselves in that predicament in the first place. For starters, the bassinet's fabric cover would have to be unsnapped and removed in order to expose the bars; then, the baby would have to roll and move in such a way to get stuck there (at which point in development the baby shouldn't be in a bassinet anymore, anyway).

So while I believe unsafe products should most definitely be taken off the market, with a little effort just about anything can probably be made dangerous. As parents, we also have to take responsibility for assembling an using products correctly.

Posted by: vtma | April 30, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

"(and co-sleeping advocates: knock yourself out! i'll take my 8hrs of sleep over your ultra-bonded family)"

Bonding, schmonding! For me, co-sleeping is all about getting as much sleep as possible. I never co-slept with my first daughter, and I spent 18 months getting up with her anywhere from 1-4x a night. With my little one (currently 11 weeks), I've been spending all night, every night in my bed since she was born. I don't even have to wake up to feed her anymore!

I'd never say co-sleeping is the best way to go for any family but mine, and as DD gets older and squirmier, I'll kick her out of the bed. But for now, I'm just thrilled that I have a newborn and I'm not at all sleep-deprived.

Posted by: newsahm | April 30, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't know why co-sleeping has to become such a polarizing issue. Some people prefer it and some don't. It all depends on the kids, their sleep habits, and the personalities involved. I prefer co-sleeping for the same reasons Newsahm likes it with her little one. I can nurse the baby without really waking up or getting up. She sleeps better, I sleep better. It works for us, and I feel perfectly rested in the morning. I also like it because I work all day, and the nighttime bonding thing is important to us. But if a parent prefers the crib, and the kid sleeps better in a crib, then that is the best option for them. In the end, we all end up sleeping on our own at some point, don't we? I don't know of any teenagers who still co-sleep with their parents.

Posted by: emily8 | April 30, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

We got a crib for our soon-to-be-born son. However, we'll use a bassinet first because there's not enough room in our place to put the crib together (we're moving shortly after he's born). We debated co-sleeping but that was a non-starter. I toss and turn in my sleep and I sleep heavy (I've slept through thunderstorms, a hurricane, and even an earthquake). I can easily envision turning on top of my son and not noticing. Rather than take the risk, we're going with a bassinet right next to the bed.

Posted by: SeaTigr | April 30, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh get a grip Milwaukee! I would never tell somebody that cribs are bad news, despite the countless nuber of times kids have been injured in them. Cribs and cosleeping can both be safe if you use certain precautions, most of which have been listed above. Cosleeping is like anything else in life, it requires a little commonsense. The folks that don't use this end up hurting their kids.

My experience the first 8 weeks of my daughters life was similar to newsahm, total and unnecesary exhaustion. There's just no way to enjoy motherhood on 4 hours of sleep a night. As soon as we brought our daughter into our room parenting became enjoyable. She slept on a changing pad between my husband and I the first five months when the risk of overlying is greatest, and she fell asleep 10 times easier and woke up about three times less often. When she got big enough to crawl around, climb on headboards and fall off the bed, we put the headboard in the attic and slept on the mattress on the floor, and we've loved every minute of it. She's still with us two years later and I've been told that she's the happiest, most easy going kid in her day care class. This class is filled with kids whose parents are totally devoted, so its either her temperament to be this way, or the cosleeping that is helping her deal so well with stress. All I'm saying is stop knocking something you've never tried and really just don't know that much about.

Posted by: pinkoleander | April 30, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

first kid had to be held for much of 4 weeks at beginning of life. I could not put him down (well, really it was just that *someone* had to be holding him, it didn't have to be me). So I slept with him for those four weeks (or more, don't remember - on Fridays I handed the child to dad). I did not sleep well with child for those weeks. It was awful. I couldn't wait for him to be able to sleep in the crib (he slept thru night at 12 weeks, that was great).
Second child had bassinet for - that was good, worked for a while right near our bed. Problem when he went to crib was he didn't sleep thru night til 18 mos (maybe 24?) - so I was getting up way too much to go to his room.

Anyway - we had a very expensive crib, that had a drop down side it seemed fine to me. But oldest is almost 7, so we bought it almost 8 years ago, I guess...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 30, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Here is more information on these dangerous cribs:

Posted by: muckraker462 | May 1, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

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