The New Future Of Cribs

by Anjali Athavaley of The Wall Street Journal

After the recall last month of 2.2 million cribs from seven manufacturers — the latest in a three-year wave of crib-safety recalls by the Consumer Products Safety Commission — parents-to-be may wonder: What exactly makes a safe crib?

Most of the cribs recalled since 2007 have involved “drop sides,” which slide up or down. The safety commission voted last week to ban the design — popular for years because of its perceived safety and convenience — and to tighten other crib standards, including those for safety testing, wood quality and mattress support.

At least 36 deaths in the past three years are attributable to failed drop sides or other flaws, such as failing hardware, side slats or mattress supports. The design flaws typically produce a gap where a baby may fall out, or become entrapped.

Parents should buy “a crib with four fixed sides, the sturdiest you can afford,” says Nancy Cowles executive director of Kids in Danger, a Chicago nonprofit focused on children’s product safety. “You should not be able to shake it in the store.”

How did so many dangerous cribs end up on the market? Use of cheap parts, and a shift to manufacturing in places where there is less oversight, play a role, Ms. Cowles says.

The biggest problem is the lack of durability testing, she says. “With the recalls, you can see that they just do not stand up to use by children in the real world.”

Most crib makers have stopped producing drop-side models and now sell what they call “modern” cribs, in both contemporary and classic styles. They share safety features such as fixed sides and a lower front rail height — 32 to 36 inches from the floor, compared with roughly 42 inches for the old drop-sides — to enable parents to pick up a baby easily. Some have eco-friendly attributes, like wood with low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, which is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

Consumers may see higher prices. “We may not see cribs at $100 anymore,” Ms. Cowles says. Many makers sell optional conversion kits costing as much as a couple hundred dollars, which turn the crib into a toddler bed, often partially surrounded by rails and low enough to get in and out of without help.

Oeuf LLC in Brooklyn, N.Y, sells fixed-side cribs priced from $565 to $920. Company owner Michael Ryan says the sides are cut from single panels of medium-density fiberboard for safety. The cribs meet California’s stringent standard for formaldehyde emissions, he says. A new federal law directs the Environmental Protection Agency to set a similar nationwide standard by 2013.

Oeuf Sparrow crib

Sometimes, Mr. Ryan says, crib shoppers lose sight of the basics. “People are so concerned about VOCs and price,” he says. “What they should be looking at is construction. The reason for recalls is quality issues — it’s the thing falling apart.”

A few years ago, Holly Waterfield, an interior stylist in New York, spent almost $1,400 on a fixed-side Oeuf Classic crib, including conversion kit and shipping charges, for her daughter, now 3. Now in the midst of redecorating, Ms. Waterfield is trying to sell it. The crib is solid and easy to assemble, she says. But she found the low profile inconvenient. “You couldn’t store a lot under there,” she says. “It wasn’t an option.”

Safety groups say parents should be wary of used cribs. And hazards arise when parents assemble cribs incorrectly. Cribs in the Bloom line, from Ilinko Ltd., of Australia, have fixed sides and require no tools to assemble. With other models, “you need a Ph.D.” to put them together,” says Francisco Balderrama, one of four fathers who founded Bloom. The Alma crib features slats on all four sides instead of two, which helps improve air flow, Mr. Balderrama says. The price is $400.

Many parents are second-guessing their old cribs. Tejal Master, of Houston, a 32-year-old information technology analyst, is six months pregnant with her second child and has a convertible drop-side crib that she bought for her son, Daivik, now one year old. She is shopping for a new model now. “It’s definitely something that makes you think twice about what you’re purchasing,” she says.


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