Choosing the Best Crib for Your Baby

Baby in crib

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With so many styles and options available today, choosing the perfect crib for your baby can feel like a daunting task. Once you determine your price range and decide which crib features are most important to you, you can begin your search for the perfect crib.

To help you along the way, we have created the ultimate crib buying guide with everything you need to know about crib safety features, styles, and designs.

Baby Crib Safety

Any new crib you purchase is supposed to meet minimum government requirements. So, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the latest crib safety standards before you shop.

That said, as long as you assemble your crib according to the manufacturer's instructions and use it properly, even the least expensive crib should be safe for baby. Occasionally, an unsafe crib slips through, though, so keep an eye on current baby products recalls, just in case.

Crib Safety Features

Standards for a safe crib include:

  • Firm, tight-fitting mattress
  • No missing or broken hardware or slats
  • No cutouts in the head- or foot-boards
  • Slats no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (the width of a soda can)
  • Corner posts no higher than 1/16 inch
  • Stationary sides

Stationary Sides

Traditionally, baby cribs came with stationary sides, single-drop sides, or double-drop sides that slide down, or drop-gate sides that fold down. While parents often consider drop sides convenient, they present serious safety issues and have been banned in the U.S.

According to crib safety standards, manufacturers are not allowed to make new drop-side cribs, and they are illegal to sell or donate. Replace any crib you own that has drop sides with a stationary side crib and do not buy or accept a drop-side crib as a gift.

Crib Mattress Safety

When it comes to the safety of your baby's crib, you need to make sure you are using a firm mattress that fits snugly in your baby's crib. Fortunately, the dimensions of full-size cribs and mattresses have been standardized. So, if you purchase a full-size crib and mattress separately, the mattress should fit snugly in the crib.

Unfortunately, this same rule doesn't apply to non-full-size cribs or portable cribs and mattresses. So, if you're purchasing a non-full-size crib, it should come equipped with the mattress and not be purchased separately.

Regardless of what size crib you purchase, you should only use a crib mattress, either the one that comes with the crib or one that you purchase. Even if another type of mattress fits in your crib, you should not use it. You also should not use a foam topper or a non-standard mattress topper or sheet.

Used Cribs

Be wary of used cribs. New information on drop-side cribs indicates that re-assembly is often done incorrectly, which can endanger the baby. Missing hardware or worn-out pieces also are potential problems.

Several crib companies have gone out of business in the past few years, too, meaning you could be stuck with a used, recalled crib and no one that will take it back. So, use caution when looking into used cribs.

Safe Sleep Environment

Each year, more than 3,500 babies die unexpectedly while sleeping with most of these deaths caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, or strangulation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), creating a safe sleep environment for your baby is an important part of preventing these deaths.

To create a safe sleep environment, you should make sure your baby's crib mattress is firm, put your baby on their back to sleep, and refrain from having any type of crib clutter including blankets, toys, and books in the crib. Even crib bumpers are discouraged because they can pose a suffocation or strangulation hazard.

You also should consider room-sharing or putting your baby's crib in your room ideally for the first year of their life, but at least for the first six months. The AAP also discourages parents from sharing a bed with their baby as well as allowing babies to sleep on soft surfaces like couches or waterbeds.

Baby Crib Styles

Because your baby's crib is the central piece of the nursery, finding just the right style and color can seem a little overwhelming at first, especially with so many options from which to choose. Fortunately, there are a number of safe and attractive crib options at almost every price point.

Once you determine your budget, you can narrow your search. Here's a closer look at the options available.

Standard Cribs

If you're looking for a basic full-size crib without a lot of bells and whistles, you will want to look for a standard crib. Standard cribs are the most basic crib option available and usually the least expensive. In fact, some standard cribs can cost as little as $100. Of course, there are more expensive versions out there, but if your budget is limited, you may want to look at standard cribs.

Some parents prefer standard cribs over convertible cribs or specially-designed cribs because they like having furniture that is specifically for the baby. In some instances, they intend to have multiple children and plan to use the crib again for the next child. So, a standard crib is the most economical choice.

Convertible Cribs

Perhaps the most popular crib on the market is the convertible crib. Convertible cribs are attractive to many buyers, because they convert to toddler beds or into a full-size adult bed. Cribs labeled 2-in-1 mean they have two purposes and those marked 3-in-1 have three purposes.

For instance, the 3-in-1 crib may start as a crib with an option to convert to a toddler bed and then later into an adult bed. While some parents like the option of being able to convert their crib into a bed as their child grows, for others the added expense may not be worth it. Plus, if they intend to have more children, they will have to purchase a second crib for their next child.

Most convertible cribs require an extra kit to be fully convertible, so ask about the cost before you make your final decision. Also, ask yourself whether you will actually convert the crib or whether you'll reuse the crib for siblings and buy a separate toddler bed. Many toddlers can move right to a twin bed, so you also could skip that step to save money.

Mini or Portable Cribs

Some parents opt for a mini crib or portable crib for the first few months of their baby's life, especially if it's equipped with a bassinet option. Other parents reserve mini or portable cribs simply for traveling or for allowing their baby to nap in the same room in which they're in. Even parents of twins have found that mini or portable cribs are a good option because they take up less space and are more economical.

Because mini cribs or portable cribs are smaller than standard cribs, they need to be purchased with a mattress that is designed specifically for that crib. In fact, the mattress is usually included. You also need to be sure that you're using sheets specifically designed for the model of crib you purchase.

Some parents don't like portable cribs for every day sleeping because the baby's mattress is so close to the floor, which can be drafty or cooler in the winter time. Plus, it can be harder to place a sleeping infant into a portable crib without waking them.

Sleigh Cribs

Sleigh-style cribs are becoming increasingly popular due to their sleek and appealing design. But they also tend to be more expensive. Because the headboards and footboards are often made from solid wood instead of slats, this can drive up the cost.

What's more, some sleigh cribs are also convertible cribs, so this can make the cost a little higher as well. That said, sleigh cribs are an attractive option and can make a nursery look quaint.

Round Cribs

If you have your eye on a round crib, it's probably because you like the look of this style of crib. But, keep in mind that this type of crib can take up a great deal of space in your nursery and can be a challenge to outfit in appropriate-fitting crib sheets.

Because these sheets are specially designed and not standard size, they can be more expensive or difficult to find. You'll also need to make sure you are buying crib sheets specifically designed for your crib. Using anything else could mean the fit is not snug and pose a suffocation or strangulation risk for your baby.

Antique Cribs

Some parents may have their heart set on an antique crib, but according to the AAP, they may not be a safe choice for your baby. In fact, the AAP recommends that you not use a crib that was manufactured before 2011.

Aside from containing slats that are likely too far apart, these older cribs may have decorative cutouts that put your baby at risk for injury. There also is a chance that an antique crib contains lead paint or is a unique size that it will be difficult to fit it with a snug-fitting crib mattress and crib sheets.

Baby Crib Features

When selecting your baby's crib, there are a number of features that you will want to look at before making your final decision. These features will help you narrow down your choices and ultimately determine which crib is right for your growing family.

Materials and Finish

In the past, cribs were mostly made from hardwoods because they are durable and easy to paint or stain. But today, cribs can made from just about any type of wood. The most popular woods used for cribs include ash, beech, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, and oak.

There even is a trend toward making cribs out of pine, but keep in mind this wood tends to be very soft and can knick easily. You also are likely to find cribs in a variety of paint colors and stains. Just be aware that even though something says it has a cherry finish does not mean it is made from cherry wood.

Mattress Adjustability

Adjustable mattress height is available on all but the most inexpensive cribs. It allows the mattress to be higher in the crib so you can gently lay down a sleeping newborn, then lowered for babies who can pull up.

At least two mattress heights are nice, three is even better. Check out the way the mattress is held up. There's a lot of variation in crib mattress supports. Some cribs have wood slats or metal bars as mattress support, while others use a metal frame with crisscrossed wires.

The wire springs tend to be the sturdiest choice. Part of the new crib safety standards from 2011 is stronger requirements for the mattress supports to prevent collapse.

Ease of Assembly

Before purchasing a crib, you may want to look at the assembly instructions. If the assembly process is complex or hard to understand, you may want to look for another crib or determine if the retailer offers assembly services. Depending on the price of these services, it may be worth it to invest in this service.

Another thing to consider is whether or not the crib will need to be disassembled in order to be moved. This consideration is especially important if you plan to have the crib in your room for the first year of your baby's life and then move it to another room. If the crib is challenging to put together, this may be a deterrent.

Caster Wheels

Wheels are a very useful feature. Check the casters to make sure they aren't flimsy because you'll be moving the crib to vacuum under it, change sheets or fetch toys. If you aren't sure if you'll need them, leave them off the crib but keep them nearby.

You'll probably want them on the crib by the time your baby is 3 or 4 months old. If you fall in love with a crib that doesn't have wheels already installed, you can buy furniture caster wheels at the hardware store and install them yourself.

Make sure if you're using wheels that you keep them locked at all times. Only unlock them to move the crib and then put them back in the locked position.

Teething Rail

A crib's teething rail is generally plastic and securely attached to the rail of your baby's crib. Once your baby can pull themselves up, they are likely to gum or bite the rail while standing. For this reason, you need to make sure to inspect the crib's teething rail to ensure it's secure and firmly attached.

Where to Buy a Baby Crib

When it comes to obtaining a crib for your baby, you can rest assured that there are plenty of safe cribs at every price point. The biggest challenge you will find is making sure you allow yourself enough time to find a crib, have it delivered, and get it assembled.

As long as you plan for delays or assembly difficulties, you should have no issue finding the perfect crib for your baby. Here are some options for where to buy a baby crib.

Baby Mega-stores

These stores have the largest selection of baby cribs in both price and style. They have a few models in stock but order others, which can take up to 12 weeks. You will want to order early in case of delays.

Local Baby Shops

Local baby shops usually carry premium crib brands at mid-range to premium prices. Because they often don't keep cribs in stock, your crib will likely be a special order. Make sure you keep that in mind before ordering. However, your local baby store likely offers the most personalized service, and will probably spend more time with you in order to find the crib you really want.

Big Box Store

Stores such as Walmart or Target usually carry a limited number of crib styles, but often have those cribs in stock. If you want an inexpensive crib without the hassle of ordering, these stores can be a good choice. Inexpensive cribs look better than ever, so a small budget doesn't have to mean you sacrifice style. In fact, if you're close to an IKEA store, take a look at their modern, inexpensive cribs.

Department Stores

These stores also may sell cribs, usually at low- to mid-range prices. Most department stores don't keep the cribs in stock, though, so you'll probably have to order one. Make sure you give yourself enough time and that you plan for delays just in case.

Online Retailers

There are a variety of retailers online that offer a wide range of crib brands and models, but shipping could potentially be pricey. Plus, if there's a problem, returning the crib also could be difficult. Make sure you understand the return policy before you buy; and be wary of the impact shipping can have on a crib. Some families have reported noticeable damage to the crib from shipping. As long as you know what to expect, buying from an online retailer can be a fine option.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing a crib for your baby can be exciting, especially because it's the focal point of your baby's nursery. However, with so many options from which to choose and so many safety features to consider, it can start to feel a little overwhelming at times.

Give yourself plenty of time to look around, determine your budget, and decide what is right for you and your family. As long as the crib is safe, everything else is a matter of preference. Plus, with this buying guide in hand as a reference you should have no issue selecting the perfect crib for your little one.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Full-size cribs.

  2. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Full-size baby cribs business guidance & small entity compliance guide.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained.

  4. Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Sids and other sleep-related infant deaths: updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environmentPediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162938. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Make baby's room safe: A parent checklist.

By Heather Corley
Heather Wootton Corley is a mother, freelance writer and certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor.