Is a Bassinet or a Crib Better for My Baby?

AAP sleep guidelines

Verywell / JR Bee 

Are you expecting a baby and wondering if you should buy a bassinet or a crib? You want to make the best choice to protect your little one while ensuring that the crib or bassinet you choose will fit your budget and your lifestyle. Here's what you should know about the differences between a bassinet and a crib and how you can help narrow down your decision.

What's the Difference?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPCS), a bassinet is defined as a "small bed designed primarily to provide sleeping accommodations for infants that is supported by freestanding legs, a stationary frame/stand, a wheeled base or a rocking base, or that can swing relative to a stationary base."

A bassinet may also include anything attachable to another surface, such as the small detachable newborn bassinets that you can attach to many modern playpens or play yards. Some strollers may also have a newborn bassinet function, or have a removable bassinet that can be detached for travel purposes, so those bassinets must also adhere to the safety regulations.

According to the CPCS's outlines, there are two different types of cribs: full-size cribs and non-full size cribs. The definition of a full-size crib, as outlined by the CPCS, is a sleeping accommodation for an infant that has interior dimensions of 28 ± 5/8 inches (71 ± 1.6 centimeters) in width x 52 3/8 ± 5/8 inches (133 ± 1.6 centimeters) in length.

A non-full size crib, on the other hand, has the same function, purpose, and "look" of a crib, but is smaller in size. The CPCS defines a non-full size crib as being 55 inches (139.7 centimeters) or smaller than 49 3/4 inches (126.3 centimeters), or an interior width dimension either greater than 30 5/8 inches (77.7 centimeters) or smaller than 25 3/8 inches (64.3 centimeters), or both. To be considered a crib, but not full-size, the crib must also meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • It can fold or collapse without being taken apart so it is smaller when not being used.
  • It has hard sides and legs that can be removed.
  • It is circular, hexagonal, or some other non-standard crib shape.
  • It does not have any mesh, nets, or screens like a playpen.

The only exception to the rule about the dimensions of a crib is hospital cribs, which can be designed differently to meet hospital regulations and accommodate equipment.

Which Is Safer?

Which is safer: a crib or a bassinet? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question.

Officially, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not offer a recommendation for parents to use either a crib or a bassinet. What they do recommend, however, is that parents choose either a freestanding crib or a bassinet for their baby, and do not choose a co-sleeper or any other type of sleeping device that attaches to their bed. The AAP also doesn't make a large distinction from a bassinet and a crib or a play yard. But no matter which parents choose, the AAP recommends that caregivers and parents follow all basic safe sleep recommendations for their baby.

AAP Recommendations

  • Always lay the baby down to sleep in their own crib or bassinet on their backs, never face-down or sideways.
  • Room-share with the baby until at least 6 months of age.
  • No bed-sharing or holding the baby sleeping in any other position, such as in a chair.
  • Absolutely nothing loose in the sleeping area, which includes bedding, stuffed animals, or the infant's clothing.
  • No crib bumpers.
  • Do not use sleep positioners or any other type of sleeping aide.

Which Should You Choose?

So, if the AAP does not officially recommend either a crib or a bassinet as the safer choice, how do you choose which to use for your family? There are several factors that could go into your decision-making process, such as:

  • Space: You might want to consider what space you have available for your baby. Traditionally, cribs are larger than bassinets, so a bassinet may be more appropriate for a smaller living and sleeping area. However, not all cribs are large and some are specifically designed for small spaces.
  • Size and development of your baby: Although a bassinet might be a more practical choice at first, there will be a weight limit on any bassinet that you choose for your newborn. Some bassinets, for instance, only have a 15- to 20-pound maximum weight limit. If your newborn is over 10 pounds, they will quickly outgrow a bassinet. The other consideration is that even if your newborn is under the weight limit for the bassinet, your baby may still outgrow the bassinet in terms of their development. If your baby is able to roll over, is beginning to scoot with their legs, or is otherwise mobile, a bassinet may not be a safe choice for your little one, because it is smaller and could pose more of an entrapment or suffocation risk. On the other hand, if you have a small or premature baby, a crib might simply feel too large for both of you to start. Some babies like to feel a little cozier in a smaller space like a bassinet provides.
  • Expense: Because most bassinets will not last longer than a few months for your baby, chances are that you will still need to purchase a crib, and you will want to consider your budget as well when making a decision. Can you afford to purchase both a bassinet and a crib, or would it make more economic sense to purchase the crib only and stick with it?

What About Used Cribs and Bassinets?

No matter what you choose, one of the most important safety tips you can keep in mind as a parent purchasing furniture for your baby is to use extreme caution with used or hand-me-down equipment.

Whenever possible, you should always try to purchase new equipment, especially sleeping products such as cribs and bassinets for your baby.

Why? Because there is more of a risk that used equipment could be outdated (not adhere to current safety recommendations), defective from previous use, or broken and improperly repaired. Used cribs, in particular, are a risky item to have in your home because slats or bars in the crib could have been broken or come loose, posing a risk that your baby's head or body slips through.

Both cribs and bassinets may be broken in the process of disassembling them, moving them, or reassembling them. Even if they appear functioning at first glance, it may be difficult to tell they are not fully functional until it's too late. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that you never use any baby crib or bassinet that is more than 10 years old or has been modified in any way.

However, if used equipment is all that is available to you, or you have a family member who is really insistent that you use their hand-me-down, you can check for recalls and to see if the equipment adheres to the current safety regulations as outlined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These safety standards account for different functions and features of bassinets and cradles including:

  • The spacing of any rigid components, such as bars or slats, as well as anything covered in fabric
  • The weight-bearing load that the structure can hold
  • Stability, keeping in mind the bassinet or crib's ability to tip over when a sibling wants to peek at the baby
  • Thickness of the sleeping pad, which includes any gaps between the actual sleeping pad and the sides of the bassinet
  • Height of the side, to prevent the baby from falling out
  • The angle of any rocking and swinging function of the bassinet or cradle to ensure the baby does not become entangled. The federal limit is an angle of 10 degrees for the product to be classified as a bassinet
  • Flammability
  • Specific requirements against small parts, sharp edges, and points
  • Restrictions against accidental folding of the apparatus
  • Other material regulations, such as lead-based paints

For full-size cribs, the safety standards that have to be considered also include the mattresses. The CPSC stipulates that any mattress used in a full-size crib must be at least 27.25 inches by 5.25 inches and can't be more than 6 inches thick.

The Studies

What do the studies say about cribs versus bassinets? One study found that bassinets may pose a slightly higher risk than cribs because due to the bassinet malfunctioning or the mechanics contributing to the death of an infant.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Pediatrics analyzed the risk factors of 53 infants who passed away in bassinets from the years 1990 to 2004. The study found that the overwhelming majority of the deaths (85%) were attributed to anoxia, suffocation, or asphyxiation, while 9.4% of the deaths were as a result of SIDS.

There were also a high number of unsafe sleep practices involved in the deaths of the infants, however, such as the fact that 37% were placed face-down to sleep and 74% who had soft bedding in the bassinet with them. In 17% of the cases, the study concluded that "specific mechanical problems" with the bassinet were noted to be involved in the deaths of the infants.

However, the study did not conclude that bassinets as a whole should be banned or parents should never use a bassinet again. What they did recommend is that parents should always make sure that any bassinet they choose is functioning correctly and that they take extra care to make sure that they don't put anything, such as bedding, in the bassinet.

A Word From Verywell

The choices you have to make as a new parent can be overwhelming; every day can seem like it brings new decisions that have to be made. And while many of those decisions can be dealt with over time, the decision of where your baby has to sleep is one that you will have to make from day one. That isn't to say that you can't change your mind, or adapt to yours and your baby's needs, but choosing a crib versus bassinet is something you should consider before your baby makes their big debut.

When it comes to choosing a crib versus a bassinet, you may wish that there was one clear-cut answer or expert recommendation, but the AAP does not recommend one over the other. Instead, the AAP recommends that parents and caregivers choose either a crib or bassinet that adheres to current safety regulations and to follow all safe sleep guidelines to help protect their little one as much as possible in either. The most important thing you can do is make sure the crib or bassinet you choose is safe, meets all current safety standards, and is the best fit for your family in this stage or season.

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Article Sources
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