“Fiona was never what I’d call an escape artist,” says mother of two Linda Clement. “She never once tried to climb out of her crib as a baby.” But shortly after her first birthday, Fiona discovered some new skills, including how to manoeuvre herself out of a playpen — Clement managed to catch her just before she fell. As she held her rescued daughter, Clement realized that if Fiona could get out of the playpen, she could get out of the crib. “And that would mean a big drop to a hard floor,” she says.
On average, more than 9,500 children under two years of age are injured in accidents associated with cribs, playpens or bassinets each year in the US, according to a recent study. (Researchers looked at kids who were brought to emergency rooms.) Two-thirds of those injuries are due to falls, and the most frequently injured body parts are the head, neck and face. Gary Smith, who led the study and is the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says some injuries are due to problems with the design and maintenance of the crib itself. Others are because the child is able to climb over the edge of the railing. “Toddlers have a high centre of gravity,” Smith explains. “If they can lean over the railing, they will topple out. That high centre of gravity also means they are likely to fall headfirst, which can lead to serious injuries.”
• If your child is 90 centimetres (35 inches) or taller — or is a climber — move him to a toddler bed.
• Check to see whether the crib you are using has been recalled. If it has, check with the manufacturer to see if there is a repair kit or a technique to make the crib safer, and do the repairs before using it again (see “Drop-Side Cribs,” below).
• Check the crib frequently to ensure that screws haven’t loosened and no bars or other parts are broken. Active toddlers can bounce around and jar screws or bolts loose.
• Once your child can pull himself up to standing position, be sure there are at least 66 centimetres (26 inches) from the top of the mattress to the top of the railing.
• Keep all bumper pads, pillows and toys out of the crib — toddlers will use these as stepping stones to help them climb out.
• Position the crib away from electrical outlets, windows, window-blind cords, shelves and other possible hazards.
• Do not use crib tents, netting or canopies over the crib. “Children have become entrapped and strangled by these items when they’ve tried to climb out,” says Smith.
Parents see a crib as a safe place to leave a child, Smith adds. But toddlers are constantly gaining new skills. “One day, all the child can do is crawl, then suddenly she starts standing up and climbing,” he says. “You need to anticipate those changes.”
Linda Clement quickly moved Fiona to a toddler bed. “I figured that if she fell out, an eight-inch drop to the floor from the bed was preferable to a four-foot drop from the crib.”
Recently, several deaths of infants in the US and one in Canada have been linked to the use of drop-side cribs. This led to a number of models being voluntarily recalled in June 2010 in Canada, and to the offer of repair kits for some other models to prevent the side from detaching. Health Canada is exploring the possibility of banning the sale of drop-side cribs in the future.