When you have a newborn, you want to keep your baby close. Safe sleep experts recommend that babies sleep in the same room with parents for the first 6 months, too. Buying a bassinet will help you keep a close eye on baby, and will allow you to have a baby sleeping in your room without having to make space for a full-size crib. If you're shopping for a bassinet, these tips can help you find a safe one for your baby.
Bassinet Safety Standards
Older bassinets were only subject to voluntary safety standards. If you're buying used, do an extra check for safety problems. Look for labels that say JPMA or ASTM. Members of these groups participated in voluntary safety standards before the newer mandatory federal standards were enacted.
Federal bassinet safety standards went into effect in April 2014. These standards ensure the bassinet is stable and durable. Requirements for mattresses and other soft parts of the bassinet reduce the risk of suffocation or entrapment. All bassinets manufactured after this date and sold in the U.S. must meet the standards.
Evaluate a bassinet the same way you would a crib. Does it have decorative posts sticking up from the sides that could catch on a baby's clothing? If there are side slats, can you fit a soda can between them? If so, they're too far apart to be safe. Are there decorative cutouts in the headboard or footboard that could entrap a baby?
Weight and Age Limits
Most bassinets have a weight limit of 15 to 20 pounds. Some may be able to hold a heavier baby, but remember that weight is not the only way babies outgrow their bassinets. In fact, many babies will be too big for the bassinet developmentally well before they reach the weight limit.
Check the instructions for the weight limit and other advice about when to discontinue using it. Some manufacturers may add a maximum age, or an age range, usually 4 to 6 months.
To Rock, or Not?
A rocking bassinet might be nice, but it introduces safety hazards not present in stationary bassinets. Once baby learns to move around a little, or roll over, the weight shifting around in a rocking bassinet could allow enough tilt that baby becomes trapped against one side. If your baby's face is pressed against the side, this could pose a suffocation hazard. Since babies often gain their rolling over skills quickly, you may not even realize that your baby is at risk. If you choose a bassinet with a rocking feature, make sure it has a lock so that the bassinet can also be used in a stationary mode.
A bassinet benefit is the smaller size and weight that make it easy to move around the house so baby can always be near you. A sturdy set of wheels makes moving it even easier. Wheels with locks will prevent the baby from being moved around by curious siblings.
It's also nice if your bassinet can be folded or disassembled quickly for storage or travel. If it folds, test the latching mechanism before you buy.
Is it easy to tell when the bassinet is locked safely into place? Check the folding legs and the places where the bassinet itself attaches to the legs for solid latches. If you need to disassemble the bassinet, it is easy to tell how it fits back together? If not, skip it. An improperly assembled bassinet is dangerous for your baby.
It's essential that the mattress is well supported. Mattress supports should be strong enough to hold your baby without bending or flexing. The entire mattress should be held up by the supports. Press along the mattress edges and in the middle to see if any spot dips easily. The hammock effect is comfortable for adults but dangerous for babies who can't extract themselves.
Sleep Like a Rock
For an adult, it may seem like manufacturers want your baby to sleep *on* a rock!
However, a firm sleep surface is a must for babies. The bassinet mattress should not be heavily padded because you don't want your baby's face to be able to sink into it. Just like a crib mattress, the bassinet mattress should fit very snugly inside the bassinet. There shouldn't be any gaps between the edge of the mattress and the sides of the bassinet. Frills and soft decor on the outside are fine, but make sure none of the frills or fluff extend into baby's sleep space.
What kind of bedding comes with your bassinet? All your baby really needs is a simple fitted sheet, and it should fit the bassinet mattress perfectly. While cribs have standard sizes, bassinets do not, so it may be hard to find sheets that are just right for your bassinet. You'll probably want to have at least one extra fitted sheet for the inevitable night time diaper explosion.
Speaking of extra sheets, it's best if those sheets are easily removed for washing. Any fabric inside baby's sleep space is at risk for getting messy, so be sure the whole thing can be cleaned somehow. If the bassinet mattress doesn't come with a waterproof cover, is one available for it? If not, can you throw the whole mattress in your washer?
Just like in the crib, the extras that come in bedding sets are not necessary. Don't add bumper pads, quilts or pillows to the bassinet. A safe sleep space for baby is pretty much bare. Nearly all bassinet-related deaths are related to soft bedding added into the sleep space.
Know When to Stop
Manufacturers give weight and age limits for bassinets. Keep a close eye on your baby so that you can tell if you need to stop using the bassinet before those stated limits. If the manufacturer says you can use the bassinet until 4 months and 20 pounds, but your baby is rolling over before those limits, you should stop using it. Babies learn new skills at a lightning pace. If your baby is working toward rolling or sitting, transition to a crib or play yard to avoid falls. More than half of the bassinet-related injuries reported to CPSC are due to falls.
Buying a Used Bassinet
A used bassinet may be a good way to save money, but use extra caution to be sure it is safe. First, check for recalls. Then, do the same safety check as you would on a new bassinet. Make sure it's sturdy and doesn't have any gaps or soft spaces that could entrap your baby. Pay close attention to the mattress and supports, as used bassinets sometimes have mattress supports that are stretched, causing the mattress to sag in the middle. Make sure all of the original parts are there. If it has been modified, don't buy it. Ask how it was stored. Bedding and wood pieces need to be stored in a cool, dry place so they don't become moldy or warped.
Once you've dealt with safety, it's time for fashion! Bassinets are available in many different styles, from sleek modern to classic and frilly. You can find bassinets that have baby-oriented themes, such as bears or lambs, or you might choose one with dark, glossy wood and fabrics that tie into your home's grown-up decor.