Special Report

Baby Gear: Playing It Safe

The 2011 drop-side crib ban resulted in safer assembly and testing standards for every crib that’s on the market. However, in the past 2 years, new safety concerns have arisen about soft bedding, video-monitor cords and infant car-seat weight limits.

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When we were shopping for diapers recently, we overheard a woman asking her friend whether she should add a new crib to her baby registry.

She wasn’t sure whether she should accept the used drop-side crib (a crib that has a side that can be lowered) that her sister offered to her, because she had heard about the 2010 ruling by Consumer Product Safety Commission that made it illegal to manufacture or sell drop-side cribs after June 28, 2011.

The correct answer is the woman shouldn’t accept the old drop-side crib. Furthermore, she should tell her sister to thoroughly dismantle the crib before she gets rid of it, so no one can fish it out of the trash. CPSC’s ban applies even to any form of resale, such as garage sales and online classified ads.

Every new crib that’s made in the United States is affected by CPSC’s new standards, which were issued along with its ban on drop-side cribs. All crib slats now must be made out of stronger types of wood. In roughly one-third of reported incidents that involved broken slats, the wood was so weak that a child in the crib was able to break through it, says Nychelle Fleming of CPSC. Manufacturers also must use stronger and better hardware. For example, wood screws, which can loosen more easily than other fasteners do, no longer can be used for key structural connections or in any crib parts that are assembled by the consumer.

CPSC also now requires manufacturers to conduct vertical-impact testing of the mattress-support system to simulate a child jumping in the crib. Manufacturers also must conduct racking tests that push and pull the crib in two different directions to simulate the loosening over time that can happen when a child shakes his/her crib. Believe it or not, these basic safety tests weren’t mandatory before the new standards went into effect on June 28, 2011. We’re glad they are now, but we wish an independent third party was required to do the testing.

The new tests provide a realistic picture of how a crib will withstand the daily use of a child moving around inside of it, says Nancy Cowles, who is executive director of Kids In Danger, which has pushed for safety standards since 2001. Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), which represents manufacturers of baby gear, estimates that the new standards and tests will increase manufacturers’ costs by about 10 percent. Retail prices for cribs have stayed the same since the standards went into effect, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they started to rise as a result.

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More good news: Cribs must be designed to be easier to assemble. Many drop-side cribs were recalled, because it was too easy to make mistakes about which crib piece fit where or in which direction. CPSC now mandates that all crib pieces must be marked clearly for correct assembly and must be structured or marked so they can fit together only in the correct way.

Unfortunately, cribs aren’t the only concern when it comes to baby gear.

STAYING COMFORTABLE. The majority of crib-related deaths that CPSC studied in developing its new standards was related to suffocation from soft bedding, such as bumper pads, comforters and infant sleep positioners.

Soft bedding is such a concern that in September 2011, Chicago became the first city in the United States to ban the sale of crib bumper pads. Maryland is the only state that’s considering a statewide ban on bumper pads, and if its bill passes, the new law would go into effect in June 2013.

Most manufacturers stopped making infant sleep positioners in 2010 after CPSC and Food and Drug Administration issued warnings about the products. The products still are available, but we noticed that they are extremely difficult to find on store shelves.

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