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Crib bedding

Crib bedding buying guide

Last updated: April 2013

Getting started

Whether you're planning an elaborate nursery or simply putting a crib in your bedroom, shopping for miniature sheets can be fun. After all, this is where your baby will be spending a lot of time--especially in the beginning, since most newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. You want the space to be comforting and attractive, but you don't have to spend a fortune.

Your bedding choices will seem endless, from single fitted sheets to designer sets with crib bumpers that cost over $100. It's easy to get swept up into the excitement of shopping for this part of your baby's gear, especially with the vast array of fabrics, colors, and print choices available. That adorable organic collection with the vintage print might inspire you to paint your baby's room a certain color, or give you another decorating inspiration.

While bedding sets might look irresistible in magazines and have you drooling as you browse online, here's a reality check: Many of them come with features that can harm your child. That expensive bumper with the pretty ribbon ties? Skip it. Bumpers are a suffocation hazard and the ribbons are a potential choking or strangulation hazard.

The marketplace is filled with bumpers and other soft items for cribs that parents think are necessary (or at least harmless) and make a baby's sleep space cute and cushiony. But the bottom line, according to our safety experts, is that any soft, extraneous items in a crib besides a fitted sheet are unsafe for infants.

As you can see in our buying guide for Cribs and Crib mattresses, we recommend keeping the one for your baby simple to guard against suffocation. All you need to give her is a safe place to sleep.

Bedding sets can also come with a baby blanket or quilt, but as cute as they are, a child can easily get tangled up in one and suffocate. The same goes for foam wedges or sleep positioners. Our experts say you shouldn't use them, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics. And those stuffed animals you'll receive as gifts should never go in the crib with your baby, either.

You'll also see crib skirts (they're like a dust ruffle) for sale. They're safe but not essential. If you want one because you think it's pretty or softens up a room's decor, go ahead, since it won't be near your baby.

Decorating with flair--and safety--in mind

A good place to start when decorating your baby's room is with the crib and fitted sheets. Then choose paint or wallpaper and other decorative items that will be out of your baby's reach, like wall hangings or furniture, based on those colors and patterns. Maybe you'll pick out a rocker, for example, that matches or goes well with the paint color you've chosen.

If you just buy two or three fitted sheets and invest in a sturdy crib, a high-quality mattress, and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint for the nursery, you'll be on your way toward creating an attractive room that's safe for your baby. Matching window treatments or safe shelving for toys can pull the space together.

You might think that a fitted sheet and a crib skirt aren't much to work with, but they can get your creative juices flowing. Colors and styles of fitted crib sheets and crib dust ruffles run the gamut, including toile, stripes, and polka dots. Besides conventional fabrics like 100 percent traditional cotton, you'll find fitted sheets in soft organic cotton, fleece, flannel, and T-shirt style cotton knits.

Though crib bedding often comes in sets or "collections" that include bumpers and quilts in addition to sheets, bedding items are also sold separately; you can buy just a fitted crib sheet for about $10. If anything but a "fully loaded" crib (with luxurious, cushy bumpers and so on) leaves you feeling decoratively deprived, rest assured that your baby is sleeping in a safer environment without them.

Types

Here's a rundown of items you'll need to outfit your baby's crib safely.

Mattress pad


Buy two waterproof mattress-pad covers so you can have one as a backup. They're the same size as a fitted crib sheet, have elastic at the edges, and fit over the mattress completely. The J. Lamb & Friends Natural Cotton Top Waterproof Fitted Crib Pad by Royal Heritage, for example, is 100 percent waterproof, according to the manufacturer. It has a cotton cover with a thin waterproof layer underneath. Consumer Reports has not tested mattress pads.

Some mattress pads cover only the top of a mattress. You fit a crib sheet over them. You'll see a variety of pads, including ones that are lined in flannel. They come in different sizes. Some of the smaller ones are marketed as multiuse "lap pads" or "burp pads." They're smaller than a crib mattress and can be tossed in the wash when they're dirty. For $8, you can get a three-pack of Babies R Us Fleece & Embossed Multi-Use Lap & Burp Pads that measure 12" x 13.5". The company makes a larger size in fleece with a waterproof bottom that's 18 x 27 inches and sells for $10.

Whatever you chose--even a quilted pad--should be thin, an inch thick or less. Quilted pads are usually made of cotton or a synthetic material and should cover the mattress securely. Never use a plastic bag as a mattress cover because it's a suffocation hazard. Plastic, zippered, waterproof covers are also available. The Babies R Us Fleece & Embossed Crib Mattress Cover sells for about $16.

Fitted sheet

Most crib sheets have fitted corners to keep them secure. They're made of fabrics that include woven cottons, cotton blends, and lightweight flannel. Three should get you off to a good start. Don't use fitted sheets that are loose or bunchy; they should fit your baby's crib mattress like skin. Some parents complain that the sheets or mattress pads shrink when washed, so make sure you follow the manufacturer's directions when it's laundry time (which could be just about every day).

Swaddle wrap


You don't want to put a blanket of any kind in a crib--even a receiving blanket (a very thin blanket typically made of woven cotton) unless you're swaddling a baby, which is usually done for just the first few weeks. Even if you buy a beautiful baby blanket or quilt as part of a set or receive one as a gift, don't use it in the crib because they could cause your child to suffocate. If you have a quilt you don't want to part with, you can always hang it up on a wall for decoration or use it on the floor for tummy time--when your baby will have a chance to stretch out and practice pushing himself up on his arms while supervised.

Instead of a blanket, you can use a swaddle wrap, which slips over a regular sleeper or diaper but still leaves room for little legs to stretch and kick. Newborns love to be swaddled because it makes them feel secure, and it's easy to do. Buy a half-dozen receiving blankets made of 100 percent cotton for good absorbency (or put them on your shower gift list). You can also purchase a ready-made swaddle wrap such as the SleepSack Swaddle by Halo (pictured), starting at about $15. The wrap lets your baby's arms stay inside or out, and it can be turned into a conventional wearable blanket when she no longer needs swaddling. Look for flame-resistant fabric, such as polyester. Another brand is the SwaddleMe Infant Wrap in organic cotton, which retails for about $18.

Since your baby will outgrow the swaddling stage quickly, don't think that a special wrap is a must-have. Your infant will be happy swaddled in a receiving blanket, which is much less expensive, and you can put him to sleep in an infant-sized wearable blanket as well.

Wearable blanket


Like a swaddler, these go over your baby's sleeper or diaper and leave lots of legroom for stretching and kicking. The difference is that with a wearable blanket, your baby's arms won't be wrapped. Look for ones made of flame-resistant fabric. Popular brands are the Halo SleepSack, shown here, which sells for about $15 and up. You'll find smaller companies making wearable blankets, too, with different features. The Cozy Sleeping Bag by Aden & Anais, about $30, is 100 percent cotton muslin, and the manufacturer says it will get softer with washing.

Many parents simply put their babies to bed in footed sleepers, which you can find in cotton or fleece, such as those made by Carters, which sell for about $9 and up. You can buy them in infant size to well past toddler stage.

Organic options

Almost any bedding product for babies, from swaddlers to sheets, can now be found in an organic version, many of which cost more. You won't have to look in specialty boutiques, either. Babies R Us, for example, carries products such as the Naturalmat Soft Organic Flannelette Sheet. It is "unbleached, un-dyed, and chemical free," according to the manufacturer, and costs about $40.

Some parents prefer organic sheets because they think fewer chemicals are used to make them than regular cotton sheets. Others go organic because they think it's better for the environment.

We haven't evaluated the claims manufacturers have made about their organic bedding. But sometimes they're dubious. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, recently told retailers to stop labeling and advertising rayon textiles as eco-friendly bamboo. (Once the plant fiber is processed, it's rayon, not bamboo. And toxic chemicals that emit hazardous air pollutants are used during manufacturing.)

While we haven't tested crib sheets, we did test three sets of adult sheets that were supposed to be bamboo but should have been labeled rayon or a rayon/cotton blend. (To read more about sheets and our testing, see our sheets buying guide.)

One organic label parents can look for comes from the European Union. That label, called Oeko-Tex (from the International Oeko-Tex Association, means testing has been done for harmful substances in the textiles that were used. It also takes processing into account, so any dyes or other products applied during the finishing process are taken into consideration.

Another standard you might see is GOTS, which stands for Global Organic Textile Standards, however this has yet to be adopted as a universal standard. Some manufacturers have adopted it, others have not. The flannelette sheet sold by Babies R Us, for example, is GOTS certified.

Brands


Aden + Anais

Aden + Anais' founder, Raegan Moya-Jones, was introduced to muslin as a young woman growing up in Australia. After moving to the U.S. and starting a family, she couldn’t find muslin swaddles, so she made her own. Today, her company uses muslin for its washcloths, bibs and burp cloths, blankets, swaddles and sleep bags.
www.adenandanais.com

Babies R Us

A division of Toys "R" Us, it is the nation’s leading dedicated juvenile products retailer. Since opening its first store in Westbury, N.Y. , in early 1996, the company has since grown to about 260 locations nationwide. The stores feature a wide selection of products for newborns and infants, including cribs and furniture, bedding, car seats, strollers, formula, diapers, clothing for preemies through size 48 months, toys, and plenty of unique gift ideas.
www.babiesrus.com

Carter's

Dating back to 1865, the Carter family of brands now includes OshKosh B'gosh, Child of Mine, Just One You, and Genuine Kids. Clothes sizes range from newborn to 7, and products include blankets, pajamas, jackets, shoes, furniture, and more.
www.carters.com

Halo

Halo's founder, Bill Schmid, and his wife lost their first child to SIDS. From this tragedy, Halo and its mission were born. The 15-year-old company has tried to educate parents about safe sleep practices, and a portion of every product’s sale goes to First Candle/SIDS Alliance and the Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. Since 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested the use of wearable blankets. Today, the company claims its SleepSack wearable blankets are the “No. 1 trusted choice of hospitals,” and are used nationwide to help babies sleep safely from the start.
www.halosleep.com

Naturalmat

Alongside its natural mattresses, the company offers other high-quality baby sleep products, including a range of 100% organic cotton bedding, nursery furniture, sleeping bags, fleeces, duvets, and soft lambs-wool blankets.
www.naturalmatusa.com

Prince Lionheart

This family owned and operated company was founded in 1973 in Santa Maria, Calif. Its products include drying stations for bottles and other feeding accessories, nursery items such as its Back to Sleep wearable blanket, bébéPOD and pottyPOD, travel accessories, safety guards, and more.
www.princelionheart.com

Summer Infant

In 1985, a father decided he needed a safe spot to place his baby girl, Summer. So he invented the baby bouncer seat. Today, the company manufactures a wide assortment of products, including high chairs, bathtubs, cribs, and the SwaddleMe line of  products.
www.summerinfant.com

Crib bumpers and other hazards

Crib bumpers might look cute but they can pose suffocation or strangulation hazards. Don't use them. A tight-fitting sheet is the only thing your baby needs in a crib.

Bumpers were originally designed when the slat spacing on cribs wasn't regulated and people worried about their child's head or limbs getting stuck. Now that the spacing is regulated to be only 2 3/8 inches apart, bumpers serve no real purpose except an aesthetic one, which isn't worth the danger.

"There is no benefit (to bumpers), and we are concerned, from the research, that there is a risk there," says Michael H. Goodstein, a neonatologist, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University, and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) SIDS Task Force.

While you might think a bumper can help prevent minor injuries--such as a slight head bump--the danger of suffocation or strangulation is far worse. A study by Washington University's department of pediatrics in St. Louis, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed three databases from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for deaths related to crib bumpers from 1985 through 2005. It found that 27 children from 1 month to 2 years had died from suffocation or strangulation.

The authors concluded that the risks from crib bumper pads outweighed any benefit. Besides suffocation and strangulation, bumpers can also increase the risk of SIDS, Goodstein says. If a baby gets his face up against a bumper he can rebreathe exhaled carbon dioxide instead of fresh air. The lack of enough oxygen could trigger a SIDS incident.

Goodstein says the AAP has issued statements warning caregivers about "pillow-like" bumpers that are very soft, and will issue an updated policy about bumpers this fall. He adds that many SIDS-awareness organizations recommend not using bumpers, as do many doctors. Chicago banned their use in 2011, and Goodstein says other states are considering bans as well.

Other dangers

Never let your baby sleep on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, air mattress, pillow, or bean bag, or on memory foam, sheepskin, or a quilt. Those bedding materials and other soft surfaces are a suffocation hazard. If the child sinks into the material and can't move his head (either to the side or up and away from his chest) he won't be able to get enough air. He could suffocate, or rebreathe his own air, which can cause a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide.

Bedside sleepers

These beds allow infants to sleep near their parents for bonding and nursing, but we don't recommend them. The Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't established safety regulations for them, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) didn't add them to its list of recommended places for a baby.

"With some of the bedside sleepers," Goodstein says, "you have to slide something between the adult mattresses and the sleeper, and that can slip out, or it is attached with Velcro straps that can be dangerous."

Crib tents

These mesh coverings are available for standard cribs, portable cribs, and play yards but should be avoided in every case. Some fit over the crib like a dome, while others drape over the top of the crib or play yard. No matter what type, they are a strangulation hazard. If you're tempted to use a tent over your crib because your baby can climb out, it's time to move her to a toddler bed. Babies have been strangled after being wrapped in mesh tent covers.

Crib location

Don't place your baby's crib within reach of windows, curtains, toys, blinds, wall-mounted decorations, anything with a cord, or other furniture, so an adventurous baby can't reach anything that's a danger to him. Stencils on the walls might be a safe alternative to wall hangings.

Furniture

Any furniture more than 30 inches tall should be anchored to a wall with a tip restraint. Arrange furniture so it's safe for you and your baby, and use childproofing devices to keep drawers securely closed. Make sure there's a clear path to your baby's crib, free of furniture or toys, especially at night. Area or throw rugs should have nonskid backing or be secured to the floor with double-sided tape so no edges stick up.

Mobiles

Your baby will probably spend a lot of time in his crib staring at the ceiling, so a mobile can provide some stimulation. Just make sure it's securely attached and not within reach. If your baby can stand up and grab it, it's time to remove it.

Tummy time

Even though you shouldn't use a blanket, quilt, or comforter in your baby's crib, it can come in handy as a play mat or exercise pad for tummy time. That's when your baby spends time on the floor--with your supervision--doing "push-ups" and turning his head, which promotes neck and shoulder development and builds muscles needed to roll, sit, and crawl. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), many babies aren't spending enough time on their stomachs. A lack of tummy time and the resulting developmental delays can affect a child's ability to learn such basic skills as chewing, grasping, crawling, standing, and walking.

By spending time on their stomach--for at least 1 to 2 minutes after every nap, diaper change, and feeding, working up to a total of an hour a day--babies can develop normal muscle strength and coordination.

Michael H. Goodstein, a neonatologist on the American Academy of Pediatrics SIDS task force, says that despite its name, babies don't need to spend tummy time entirely on their stomachs. "You don't have to be on your tummy, you just need to be off your head," he says. "Any time the baby is not in bed, or in a car seat, or a bouncy seat it counts--even in your arms, being cuddled."

Tummy time also helps prevent tight neck muscles and the development of flat areas on the back of the head. When babies don't get enough tummy time, they might need therapy to catch up. It can also be an important part of play.

For more information, check out a brochure called "Tummy Time Tools" you can download at www.apta.org under the "For the Public" tab.

   

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