When you have a newborn, you want to keep your baby close to you. 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, take a look at these tips to help you find a safe one for your baby.
Older bassinets were only subject to voluntary safety standards. If you're buying used, you'll want to do an extra check for safety problems. You can also look for labels that say JPMA or ASTM on them. Members of these groups participate in voluntary safety standards.
Federal bassinet safety standards went into effect in April 2014. These new standards help ensure the bassinet is stable and durable. They also have strict requirements for mattresses and other soft parts of the bassinet to reduce the risk of suffocation or entrapment. All bassinets manufactured after this date and sold in the U.S. are required to meet the standards.
Obvious Safety Issues
One way to evaluate a bassinet is to use the same criteria as you would for a crib. Does it have any decorative posts sticking up from the sides that could catch on a baby's clothing? If there are slats in the sides, can you fit a soda can through them?
If so, they're too far apart to be safe. Are there other decorative cutouts 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 manufacturer's instructions for the weight limit and any other advice about when to discontinue using it. Some manufacturers may also add a maximum age, or an age range, usually about 4 to 6 months.
To Rock, or Not?
A rocking bassinet seems like a nice feature, but it can introduce safety hazards not present in stationary bassinets. Once your baby learns to move around a little, or roll over, the weight shifting around in a rocking bassinet could allow enough of a 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 also has a sturdy lock so that the bassinet can also be used in a stationary mode.
A big benefit of the bassinet 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 the bassinet even easier. Wheels with locks on them will prevent the baby from being moved around by curious siblings.
It's also nice if your bassinet can be folded or otherwise 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 both 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 could be very dangerous for your baby.
It is essential that any mattress your baby sleeps on be well supported. The 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 several spots in the middle to see if any parts of the mattress dip easily. The hammock effect is comfortable for adults but dangerous for babies who can't get themselves out of those dips.
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. Lots of bassinets have frills and soft decor on the outside, which is fine. 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, as you know. However, it's important to 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. Again, babies learn new skills at a lightning pace. If you think your baby is working toward rolling or sitting, you should 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 a bit of cash, but you should use extra caution to be sure it is safe. First, check for recalls. Then, do the same sort of safety check as you would on a new bassinet, making sure it is 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 with the bassinet. If it has been modified, don't buy it. If possible, ask the previous owner how the bassinet 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 the safety issues, it's time for the fun part - 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.