baby peeks over side of cribShare on Pinterest
Johanna Lohr/Offset

A crib is probably one of the first things on your list to get when you’re preparing for your baby’s arrival.

Whether you’re purchasing a new one, searching secondhand stores, or borrowing one from a friend or relative, you’ll want to make sure that your little one’s crib is a safe space — so that you both can sleep well at night.

Nowadays, crib manufacturers must meet strict safety standards, so if you’re buying a new one, you can feel fairly confident it has undergone rigorous testing. However, many families chose to use vintage, hand-me-down, or secondhand cribs, which merit some evaluation before use.

One crib type you should always avoid is a drop-side crib. While they’re no longer legally made or sold, it’s possible you could have access to one — whether it’s passed down from an older sibling, snagged at a yard sale, or used while visiting a friend or family member’s home.

Drop-side cribs present a risk of potential injury to baby and even death, so think twice before putting your sweet lovebug to bed in one. To learn all you need to know about drop-side cribs, as well as how to know if you have one, read on.

A drop-side crib is built so that at least one side slides up and down (hence the “drop” in the name), so that a parent can access their baby without reaching so far over the side.

Unfortunately, the feature that made drop-side cribs so convenient for parents also inadvertently made them dangerous for babies.

In various documented instances, the dropping functionality created a small open space between the mattress and side of the crib. Tragically, there were instances in which a baby slipped into this inadvertent gap, became trapped, and was either strangled or suffocated.

Within the course of 9 years, 32 infant deaths were reported — and many more close-call incidents — all involving a malfunction in drop-side cribs.

For these alarming reasons, in 2011 the U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the production and sale of drop-side cribs, as well as implemented strict safety standards and more stringent testing requirements across the crib-manufacturing industry.

This type of space-creating detachment can happen for various reasons. That said, it typically involves older cribs that have gotten a lot of use and suffered some wear and tear along the way.

  • Worn down or broken drop-side hardware has also been shown to cause one side of the crib to disconnect from its corners, creating a gap that a baby could get wedged into.
  • If a crib has been improperly put together or taken apart and reassembled multiple times, the risk of this tragic outcome is multiplied.
  • Missing pieces and/or loose hardware are other dangerous red flags.
  • Over time, wood can become distorted, hardware can warp or break, and glue can lose its adhesiveness.

Check your crib — even if it’s a stationary side model — and check it often to make sure that everything is standing, solid, and functioning as intended.

Today, it’s illegal to use or sell drop-side cribs — either new or secondhand. They’re also not permitted for use in business or community settings, even if they have been equipped with immobilizing hardware meant to stop the sliding functionality.

As of the end of 2012, day care facilities, hotels, and other businesses with communal cribs were required to use models that complied with these regulations.

If the crib in question was purchased after June 28, 2011, when the CPSC’s new rules went into effect, you can feel fairly confident that it meets or exceeds the strictest safety standards set by the regulatory committee.

However, if you’ve borrowed, inherited, or purchased a secondhand crib, you might want to check on its manufacturing date and reevaluate. While it’s illegal to resell a drop-side crib, it can and does occasionally happen. You might have one in your possession and not even realize it.

Regardless of whether we are talking about a drop-side crib or used standard crib, it’s worth your while to do a little safety evaluation.

First, check the CPSC’s web site to see whether it has ever been recalled. If it happens to be under an active recall, you might be able to request a repair kit from the manufacturer or even exchange it altogether. Either way, don’t attempt to modify a crib yourself to fix any existing issues.

If you purchase a used crib, ensure it comes with all the original hardware, and locate an instruction manual online if the paper pamphlet is long gone.

There are various ways you can evaluate the safety of your new or used crib:

  • Crib bar spacing. There should be a maximum of 2 3/8 inches between the bars of a crib, so that babies can not get wedged between them or get their legs and bodies out, leaving their head in a strangled position.
  • Mattress size. The correct mattress size must be used to ensure there are no gaps or spacing. New cribs should include a warning label with the proper mattress dimensions. If you don’t have access to it, do a quick “two-finger test.” It should be a struggle to fit two fingers between the mattress and sides of a crib. You want this area to be as snug as possible.
  • Crib settings. Per the CPSC, at its lowest setting, a crib should have a rail height measuring 26 inches from the top of the railing to the mattress.
  • Check for hazards. No nails, pegs, or hardware — nor any jagged wood or other potentially dangerous surfaces — should be exposed. Also, avoid decorative cut-outs that could entrap little body parts. Do a quick inspection to make sure there are no visible, touchable hazards.
  • Drop cribs (if you have to use one). You should avoid drop-side cribs altogether. Still, if you have no alternative, check the latches on the drop rails to ensure they’re properly tightened and secure. If the crib has been equipped with immobilizing hardware, make sure that it’s correctly installed and in good shape.
  • Baby positioning. Of course, when it’s time for bed, always lay your baby on their back, with no loose items, blankets, or toys. Don’t use crib bumpers or sleep positioners.
  • Room arrangement. Place the crib away from windows, as direct sunlight or drafts can make your baby uncomfortable. There’s also a risk if strings from blinds or curtains are close enough to become wrapped around your baby’s neck. Also, consider other safety hazards. A crib can become too hot if placed too close to a radiator or other heat source.

To ensure your baby sleeps well and stays safe at night, start with a well-maintained crib.

While using an old drop-side crib might be convenient, its mechanisms pose a significant danger to your infant.

If you can, it’s best to dispose of or destroy it altogether. If you’re unable to do this, be sure to regularly check for detachment and gapping issues, and evaluate the nails, screws, and pegs often.

Do your due diligence and be sure your crib — whether it’s new or old — is in good form.

You already have too many things to stress about as a parent, and the possibility of a malfunctioning crib should not be one of them. Go ahead and do a quick check so you and baby can rest easy tonight.