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It’s supposed to be the safest place for your baby, yet more than. 9,500 infants and toddlers go to the emergency room each year because of injuries related to cribs, playpens, and bassinets, according to a 19-year study released in the February 2011 Pediatrics. An average of 113 children will die each year from these accidents, and it’s cautioned that the true number of crib injuries is probably much higher, since the aforementioned study tallied only children treated in ERs, and not those taken to doctors’ offices or urgent care centers.

Although 94% of children injured in cribs are treated in the ER and released according to the study, 4% were hurt seriously enough to be admitted to the hospital, and 1.2% of the infants died. Falls were the cause of injury for two out of three of these accidents.

Guidelines for Choosing A Safe Crib

Do not use drop-side cribs

Convenient as they may be, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of drop-side cribs in 2010, after they had been linked to at least 46 infant deaths in the previous 10 years. (Hotels, motels and child care centers were given until early 2012 to replace theirs.) The problem is that the drop mechanisms are simply too unreliable and dangerous, and can lead to strangulation or entrapment. It is now illegal to sale OR RESALE drop side cribs in the United States.

Stick with recent crib models

Avoid using cribs that are 10 years or older, since they may have been built using outdated safety standards.

Avoid handmade cribs

Avoid using handmade cribs. While the craftsman’s heart may be in the right place, it’s unlikely the person who built it knows of all the different safety hazards to watch out for.

Don’t self-repair broken cribs

At the risk of upsetting your family handyman, we would advocate against trying to fix a broken crib, and instead opting to purchase a new one. About 30% of crib deaths are caused by broken cribs that were “fixed” with home-made repairs, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Screws you might use may not fit properly and can pop out; wire, tape, and other such ties can stretch over time and create a dangerous gap. Other deaths have occurred because parents were propping a broken down crib against a wall.

Purchasing a crib

Before you purchase a crib, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for any recent recalls or crib complaints:

Safely assembling a crib

Pay close attention when assembling your crib, and double check each step in the assembly. Check again when you are done to ensure you don’t have any extra parts or screws. (Some companies may provide you with spares in case you lose one, but it should clearly state this in the assembly instructions.) One of the leading causes of crib injuries is improper assembly or deteriorating parts. Parents may accidentally put the crib panels on upside down, or make other mistakes that can create a danger area. Once assembled, give your crib a shake: it should be sturdy and not wobble. If it does look shaky, you need to do something. Aside from the risk that it could collapse, a crib with loose screws that wobbles too much allows its different parts to shift just enough that it can create pinch points or areas where a baby might get stuck.

Making your crib safe for baby

Remove crib bumpers

Crib bumpers are a perfect example of how good intentions can go astray. They are intended to make a crib safer by preventing baby from injuring himself against the side of the crib. In practice, however, crib bumpers put your infant at risk for asphyxiation. Research has linked dozens of such deaths in recent years to crib bumpers, mostly caused by babies getting their face wedged between a crib bumper and mattress. The ties on crib bumpers, believe it or not, have also managed to somehow strangle some infants.

The type of injuries that crib bumpers are supposed to protect against are really only possible once a baby is old enough to pull themselves up – usually around 5 or 6 months of age. But by this time, both manufacturers and safety advocates say they should be removed, since they may pose an even greater danger by providing a step for baby to pull themselves over and out of the crib. Bradley Thach, a physician and professor of pediatrics at Washington University who has studied this subject, sums it up: “Since bumpers can be a cause of death and they might only prevent very minor injuries, bumpers should not be used.”

Keep other soft items out of the crib

As tempting as it may be to deck out your baby’s crib with stuffed animals and soft fuzzy baby items of all types, these things can pose a suffocation hazard to young infants. Should your baby roll and find their face buried in a blanket or teddy bear, infants may not have the necessary muscle strength to lift their head up. If it’s cold, add layers to your baby rather than blankets to the crib, at least until your little one gets older and develops the necessary muscle strength and body mobility to easily move – typically around 6 months or so.

Crib safety fact:

90% of crib injuries happen when babies are left alone. Children will roll over, sit, or stand for the first time when you’re not expecting it, and so parents can be caught off guard.

Safely position your crib

Keep the crib away from windows and window blinds, curtains, or cords. You might even want to back it up slightly so it isn’t flush with the wall once your baby starts to get more mobile. Mischievous babies will use window sills, wall boards, shelves, and any other item next to their crib to either play with or scale their way out.

Watch out for baby monitors

Children have been strangled because they got themselves entangled in the cord from a baby monitor that was too close to their head. They’ve also been injured when a baby monitor falls on their head. Ensure the cord to your baby monitor is out of reach and tied down, and never wrap a baby monitor cord around the crib or place a baby monitor inside the crib.

Routinely check your crib for safety

Screws, bolts, and joints can come loose with use. So check your crib periodically by shaking it gently. If it seems loose or wobbly, tighten the hardware and try again. If it’s still loose, check your wood-to-wood joints. Make sure the crib mattress fits tightly, and that there are no gaps that the baby could roll into. Make sure the crib sheet fits snuggly without extra folds or wrinkles to avoid the risk of SIDS.

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