How to Buy a Crib

Choosing a crib is an important decision. Not only are there important safety questions, but also issues about functionality and appearance. Because a crib can be a significant investment that will be used for several years, it is important to get all the facts before you buy.

  1. Safety - Cribs are the most dangerous juvenile products. While US safety standards address most of the risks, the standards are voluntary. This means the responsibility to understand the standards and choose a safe crib falls upon the consumer.
  2. Style & Function - Most children in the US sleep in cribs until age 2 or 3. If a family has 2 to 3 children, the crib may be used for up to 9 years. It is therefore important that the crib has an appealing style and performs well.
  3. Cost - Buying a crib can be a significant financial decision. On the low end, an inexpensive metal crib can cost as little as $100. A moderate quality hardwood crib may cost between $300 and $600. On the high end, imported cribs can cost between $600 and $800, while designed cribs and cast iron cribs can cost $800 to $1,200 and higher. All of these prices exclude the mattress and bedding.

Below is a detailed list and description of crib attributes, safety features, and types of retailers.

Crib Attributes:

  • Material – The two most common materials for cribs are wood and metal. Wood cribs are made of hardwoods such as oak, maple, and ash; and softwoods such as pine. The hardwoods are more durable than the softwoods. Metal cribs cover the extremes. On one side, Low-end metal cribs are less expensive than other types. However these cribs may have sharp edges can cut baby and parent. On the other side, high-end metal cribs are made of cast iron and are some of the most expensive cribs sold.
  • Color – The most common colors for cribs are white, natural wood and cherry.
  • Style – Crib styles include modern, shaker, mission, rustic, antique and many others. Choose a style that appeals to you and fits in in your house. Some people recommend choosing the dresser first and then a crib to match. The dresser will likely remain in a child's room as they age, whereas a crib will only be used for 2-3 years per child.
  • Lowering Railings – Many cribs have side rails that lower to make it easier to pick up and put down the baby. Some cribs have rails on both sides that lower (usually not needed and reduce the crib stability). Other cribs use a folding rail. This can pinch child and parent also toddlers can put their feet on the dividers and climb out of the crib.
  • Lowering Hardware – There are three basic types: foot releases, pull buttons, and knee press actions. Of the three, the knee press is the quietest and easiest to use. The pull buttons require two hands to lower the rail (not recommended).
  • Extra Storage – Some cribs have a drawer under the mattress. This is a convenient extra feature.
  • Wheels – If the crib has wheels, make sure they have locks so that rocking it cannot move the crib. Look for high-quality, sturdy wheels.
  • Mattress Support – Support varies from cardboard, vinyl sheets, plywood and metal springs. The high quality and most comfortable are metal springs.
  • Mattress Height Adjustment – Most cribs have several height adjustments. The crib starts out in the highest position when the baby is an infant. Then as the baby grows, the mattress is lowered. Make sure that the hardware to lower the crib is easy to use and sturdy.
  • Stability – When you go to nursery furniture stores, shake the cribs to assess how sturdy they are.
  • Ordering Time – Some large stores may have the cribs in stocks, however, it may take up to 14 weeks if a crib needs to be ordered from the manufacturer.
  • Warrantees – Warrantees vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some cribs have no warrantee, while others cover the crib for 15 year or 3 children.

Safety Standards:

Be sure to inspect any crib you are considering buying as well as asking the store if the crib meets the US safety standards. Below are some key features to look for.

  • Crib Slats – The distance between slats should be less than 2 3/8 inches
  • Drop Sides – Should be at least 9 inches above the mattress when lowered and 26 inches above mattress when the mattress is in the lowest position.
  • Corner Posts - Clothing can catch on any protrusion from the crib. Any catch points sticking up more that 1/8 inch should be removed.
  • Crib Hardware – All screws should be in tightly to prevent crib collapse.
  • Paint – cribs built before 1980 may have a lead in the paint. Strip off and refinish old cribs before using. Or even better, avoid using antique or used cribs all together.
  • Brand Name – Brand name can be used as an indicator of safety. Imported cribs from lessor known manufacturers likely do not conform to US safety standards. However, this doesn't mean the high-end cribs are any better than mainstream brands. They are basically the same construction with a few more bells and whistles.

Where to Buy

  • Independent Stores – Usually carry a good selection of cribs and provide good service. But prices are typically higher.
  • Discount Chains and Department Stores – Discount store such as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart and department stores such as Sears often have baby departments. The prices are good, however the service level is typically low.
  • Internet - Some sites contain a limited selection of cribs, but their focus is mainly on baby gear. Prices may be lower than other channels, however selection is poor and dealing with problems and returns is more difficult.
  • Catalog – Sears and J.C. Penney's sell quality main-stream brands through catalogs. The pricing is reasonable, but dealing with problems and returns may be more difficult.