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What Are The Safety Issues With Drop-Side Cribs?

Are Drop-Side Cribs Safe For Your Baby?


New Born Baby.
Miho Aikawa/Taxi Japan/Getty Images
Drop-side cribs are one of the most popular crib designs, thanks to the convenience offered by having one side that can be lowered to allow parents better access to their baby. However, crib safety organizations and even the U.S. government have cast a wary eye on drop-side cribs, and the safety issues have brought about stronger crib safety regulations that ban the manufacture of drop-side cribs.

What Are The Safety Issues With Drop-Side Cribs?

  • Plastic drop-side hardware can break or warp.
  • Some types of soft wood could allow the hardware to come loose faster.
  • Many parents install the drop side upside-down, which can increase wear on hardware.
  • Drop side pieces go missing over time and the cribs aren't re-assembled properly.
All of these issues can allow a gap to form between the crib mattress and part of the drop side. Babies can become trapped and suffocate in that gap.

Drop-Side Crib Recalls

According to CPSC's recall archives, more than 20 different crib recalls have been issued since 2007. These recalls have affected more than 11 million cribs, from many different manufacturers. While the specific reasons for recall vary, nearly all of the recalls were issued because a durability or hardware problem created a gap in the crib where a child could become entrapped or suffocate.

Owners Can Contribute To Drop-Side Crib Safety Issues

Drop-side cribs have safety problems that can't be addressed during manufacturing, too. Cribs are often taken apart and stored for a while between babies. When a drop-side crib is re-assembled a few years later, missing hardware, loosened screws or bolts, or assembly errors can all contribute to a drop-side coming loose. Similarly, when cribs are sold at garage sales or thrift shops, parts may be missing or a lack of assembly instructions can allow errors to happen when it's time to put the used crib together.

Crib Safety Standards Have Changed

In June 2011, new federal crib safety standards went into place. Manufacturers can no longer make drop-side cribs as part of these new regulations. This also means you will no longer find drop-side cribs in U.S. retail stores. Beginning in December 2012, hotels, day care centers, and rental companies will also need to use only cribs that meet the new safety standards. In the meantime, you should be aware that some hotels or day care centers may be using older cribs that don't meet the current standard.

The History of Changing Drop-Side Crib Standards

CPSC Chairman Nancy Nord warned parents in Oct. 2008 about the dangers of re-assembling cribs or buying older, used cribs. In Nov. 2009, new CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said the agency would write new crib safety regulations within the next few months.

International standards-setting group ASTM received a proposal from their cribs subcommittee to ban the manufacture of drop-side cribs. Some subcommittee members felt it was too difficult to address the re-assembly issues or misuse of drop-side cribs in any new safety standards. New crib safety standards were approved in Nov. 2009 and are expected to be announced soon. According to Canada.com, the new standards do not allow for movable side rails. In other words, drop-side cribs are officially out. Many crib manufacturers look to ASTM's voluntary safety standards when making their cribs.

Toys R Us Will No Longer Order Drop-Side Cribs

In April 2009, Toys R Us announced that its stores would no longer order drop-side cribs because of the safety issues they present. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Toys R Us Chief Executive Jerry Storch said, "There are enough concerns raised about drop-side cribs that we're moving forward and we're going to phase them out." While Storch said he doesn't believe all newer drop-side cribs are dangerous, the length of time that parents keep cribs makes a difference in terms of safety.

Is Your Drop-Side Crib Be Affected

The ban on drop-side cribs applies to new cribs, so it isn't suddenly illegal to have a drop-side crib in baby's nursery. However, from a safety standpoint, it's a good idea to do some double checking, since it's clear that some of the safety issues with drop-side cribs come from the consumer end.

  • Check the CPSC website to see if your baby's crib has been recalled. Get a repair kit or exchange the crib if it is under recall. Do not try to repair a recalled crib on your own.
  • Make sure that your baby's crib is assembled correctly and works properly.
  • Check crib hardware periodically to be sure it hasn't loosened, broken or gone missing.
  • If you buy a used crib, be certain all of the hardware and parts are included, and find an instruction book if there isn't one with the crib.

What Other Crib Options Are Available?

Though drop-side cribs are incredibly popular, they aren't the only cribs on the market. You can still choose cribs with stationary sides to avoid the safety issues with moving parts altogether. Some crib manufacturers are already moving towards making only stationary side cribs, with or without the drop-side cribs ban. Some parents are concerned that they won't be able to reach into a stationary side crib, particularly if they're very short. Cribs with a lower front rail may be a good choice in that case.

Another available crib type is the drop-gate crib, where a part of the crib side folds down to allow as much access as a drop-side crib would. The hardware and mechanism in a drop-gate crib is simpler than a drop-side crib, though, so there isn't as much risk of mis-assembly or of the hardware failing and posing a serious safety problem. The horizontal bar through the crib's side, created by the drop gate, can give industrious toddlers a foothold for climbing out, though. For now, I think the best option is a stationary crib with no moving sides or gates.

As safety standards groups and crib manufacturers try to figure out how to make baby's crib a safer place to sleep, we may also see some interesting changes in crib design. In the Wall Street Journal article on drop-side cribs, a Toys R Us product safety expert said some cribs might end up with shorter legs, so it's easier to reach inside to pick up baby.

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