Why ban drop-side cribs?

Lois Lee, MD, MPH
Lois Lee, MD, MPH

The first time I took my friend Julie to a national baby supply/furniture chain store, her eyes glazed over as soon as we walked in. After a few minutes in the packed aisles, with boxes towering from floor to ceiling, stuffed with equipment and toys just for babies, she was ready to leave. “This is overwhelming. How can anyone possibly know what to buy?” she said.

But that confusion was precisely the reason I was invited on this particular shopping excursion. Being a pediatric emergency medicine doctor and mother to a 1-year-old at that time, I knew my way around a baby store. I knew exactly what we were (and weren’t) looking for.

Still, despite our clearly defined mission, like Julie I was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of products available. With so many choices for all the things you need/want to buy, how does a new parent begin to choose? Even with my background, I felt a little taken aback by it all. After some searching we eventually found her the perfect crib and I was glad I came along to help; besides picking out a car seat, finding a safe crib is one of the most important pieces of equipment a new parent will buy. Making the right choice is crucial.

To keep cribs safer, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) just released its new standards for safe cribs. According to their mandates, all cribs sold after June 28, 2011 must meet these new standards, which include:

  • Stopping the manufacture and sale of dangerous, traditional drop-side cribs
  • Strengthening mattress supports and crib slats
  • Requiring crib hardware to be more durable
  • Making safety testing more rigorous.
A baby is safest in a crib without drop-sides, placed firmly on his back and without excessive blankets, toys or other potentially suffocating items.

So why are these new standards so important? Babies, especially newborns, spend a large amount of their time sleeping, often in a crib. Since 2000 there have been 32 infant suffocation and strangulation deaths in the United States associated with drop-side cribs with detaching side rails. There have also been infant deaths associated with faulty or defective crib hardware. These deaths usually happen when a child’s face and head become stuck between the mattress and the crib side rails, causing smothering. The safest crib is one with sturdy crib slats and hardware without a drop-side with only a fitted sheet over the firm mattress. There should be no large gaps between the mattress and the crib. If you can fit more than two fingers between mattress and the side of the crib, the crib is potentially unsafe.

They may seem like an unlikely culprit, but excess bedding, pillows, fluffy crib bumpers or stuffed animals can also be suffocation hazards. If you own any of these things make sure they aren’t in the crib at the same time as the baby.

The new crib standards are great for brand new parents, but what should you do if your baby is already sleeping in one of the old drop-side cribs? First, make sure the manufacturer has not recalled your drop-side crib. If it has, that crib should NOT be used anymore. If your crib has not been recalled, some manufacturers have drop-side crib immobilizers that can secure the drop-sides to prevent the sides from separating from the crib. These immobilizers can be used in the home if you already have a drop-side crib, but keep in mind that they do not fit the CPSC standards. The CPSC also states you should not resell, donate, or give-away an old-drop side crib, even with an immobilizer, because it doesn’t meet current safety standards.  (Information about recalled cribs and companies providing immobilizers for drop-side cribs can be obtained from the CPSC website.)

Cribs are expensive, and if your children have graduated to beds it may be tempting to pass an older model crib on to another family member or friend who is having a new baby. But if you have drop-side cribs you should remember that they pose a potential risk of suffocation and strangulation and have been tied to dozens of infant deaths. For safety sake drop-side cribs need to be thrown away, not donated, sold at yard sales or left at swap areas at the local dump. It may seem wasteful, but you can’t put a price on safety— a safe crib is the best place for a sleeping baby.