What to look for in buying a crib

The crib is the most important item in a baby's nursery. In her book ''Babyspace,'' Ellen Liman outlines the basic quality and safety factors to look for when choosing a crib.

For the first two or three months, she says, a newborn baby does not need a crib and can sleep in any comfortable confined space. A cradle or a bassinet are traditional favorites, but a large wicker laundry basket makes a snug sleeping spot for an infant.

Buying a crib is a considerable investment. Full-size cribs measuring about 30 by 54 inches usually cost $100 to $200 without the mattress. There are many style options available, including cribs that convert to junior beds or love seats when outgrown.

Whether buying, renting, or borrowing, parents should check to see if the crib meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards set in 1976. The most important regulation is that crib slats should not be more than 2 3/8 inches apart, so a baby cannot wriggle his head or body through the bars.

Other safety features required by the commission:

* All wooden surfaces should be smooth and free of splinters. All hardware should have smooth or rounded edges.

* Latches on drop sides and folding sides of cribs should hold tightly enough to prevent accidental release. They should require at least 10 pounds of force and two actions to open or close. A foot release, as well as a hand release, is ideal.

* Mattresses should fit snugly, leaving no gap between the sides of the crib and the mattress.

* The crib side should be high enough to prevent falls. When the mattress support is at its highest position, there should be at least 5 inches between it and the top rail; at its lowest, the measurement should be at least 22 inches.

Additional quality features to look for:

* There should be one or more stabilizer bars under the springs to prevent the crib from rattling and shaking.

* The thin plastic teething rails that run the length of the top of the railing to prevent the baby from chewing on the wood should be firmly attached.

* Crib mattresses should be firm but resilient and have a durable cover. According to Consumer Guide, innerspring mattresses do not hold up well under a bouncing toddler and can result in broken or protruding metal parts. High-density foam mattresses are not as resilient but have no inner parts to break.

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