Why Are Drop-Side Cribs Dangerous?

Drop-side cribs were banned in 2011 because they pose a suffocation and strangulation risk. Here's why parents should avoid them, plus tips for choosing a safer alternative.

Baby lying in a crib

McKinsey Jordan / Stocksy

A crib is one of the most important purchases that parents-to-be will make. But did you know that there's a certain type of crib that' so dangerous, it has been banned from manufacture and sale in the United States since 2011? They're called drop-side cribs, and they're characterized by a side that slides up and down for easier access to your baby.

Drop-side cribs are no longer manufactured, but people might still inherit them or buy them secondhand. These cribs may have once seemed like a big convenience to new parents because of the sliding side; however, the risks of using them far outweigh any benefits. Here's why you should stay away from drop-side cribs, plus tips for creating a safe sleeping space for your little one.

What Is a Drop-Side Crib?

A drop-side crib allows at least one side to slide up and down, letting a parent access their baby without reaching over the side, explains Rebekah Lipstein, M.D., a pediatrician with RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. The crib contains hardware to make this mechanism work.

Safety Issues of Drop-Side Cribs

Looking at drop-side cribs, it might be difficult to initially see a problem. But the main safety concern involves the drop-side component itself, which can detach from the corners of the crib, creating an open space that's possibly deadly for babies. Their little bodies can slide into this space and get stuck, resulting in suffocation or strangulation.

"The detached side creates a space that an infant or toddler can move into and become trapped between the crib mattress and the drop side, potentially leading to suffocation," explains Dr. Lipstein.

This dangerous detachment typically happens in older cribs with loose or worn-down hardware, improper assembly, missing pieces, or distorted wood. But no drop-side crib is considered safe to use, which is why they're no longer allowed to be manufactured and sold in the United States.

Dangers of Drop-Side Cribs

If the hardware breaks down, the drop-side component can detach from a corner of the crib, creating an empty space that babies can fall into and suffocate.

Drop-Side Cribs Are Banned in the U.S.

In 2011, drop-side cribs were banned from manufacture and sale. This happened after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported "32 infant and toddler suffocation and strangulation deaths and hundreds of incidents" related to drop-side cribs between January 2000 and May 2010. Sadly, the CPSC even showed pictures of homemade repairs to drop-side cribs using tape that could still be potentially deadly for babies.

"The babies rolled into the space between the drop side and the mattress and were trapped in that space and unable to breathe," says Nicole Cannon, owner of Sleepy Mama Sleep Consulting and a certified member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants.

When the CPSC announced the ban in 2011, it shared that "all cribs manufactured and sold (including resale) must comply with new and improved federal safety standards." The new rules "apply to full-size and non full-size cribs" and include prohibiting "the manufacture or sale of traditional drop-side rail cribs," among other things, according to the organization.

But here's something important to note: While you won't find a drop-side crib available to purchase new in a store, you might see one in a secondhand shop (even though it's illegal to sell drop-side cribs). Some people also inherit them from friends or relatives. That's why it's vital to know about the dangers of drop-side cribs for little ones.

How to Choose a Safe Crib for Your Baby

How can you make sure you're buying or receiving a crib that's safe for your child? Start by reading these crib safety tips from the CPSC. You can also check the CPSC website for any crib recalls.

Then "look for a sturdy crib with slats that are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart," so babies can't get caught between them, says Lisa Ehl Lewis M.D., a pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas. "Ensure the crib has no cushions, and the mattress should be flat—plus fit well on the bed without sliding easily." All cribs purchased new should meet these safety standards.

Pay extra attention to secondhand or inherited cribs, making sure to avoid any drop-side options. "If inheriting a crib, it should be sturdy and not deformed in any way," says Dr. Lewis. "Again, slats [should be] no more than 2 3/8 inches apart." Check your crib hardware to ensure no pieces appear broken, loosened, or asymmetrical. Dr. Lewis also says to avoid cribs older than a decade as they're less likely to meet safety standards.

Finally, Dr. Lipstein recommends choosing crib with a simple design and "no fancy cutouts, edges, or shapes." Also watch out for nails and other hardware. "You want to focus on safety and functionality over aesthetics," she says.

Remember, too, that babies should be placed to sleep on their backs. There should be nothing else in the crib besides a fitted sheet. These tactics can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Key Takeaway

Drop-side cribs were banned in 2011 for safety reasons. Parents should be careful when buying secondhand cribs or borrowing cribs from someone else. Always follow safe sleep practices during naps and bedtime.

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