Cribs and Other Baby Jails: Cages vs. Free-Range.

Mar 23, 2004

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The Bottom Line Call it whatever you want, but aren't your children safe?

A crib is a cage. Period. It's a place to keep your little bundle of newfound mobility confined to one controlled location. What is a child if not a small animal? Take this phrase with you when you are deciding on your crib purchase: Function before form. Safety is of the utmost importance. Your best bet is to find the sturdiest crib possible. I prefer oak as a crib material, with pine as my second choice. Cribs made of tubing always seem flimsy and cheaply made. When assembled, it should not wiggle, jiggle, or otherwise make open spaces where tiny fingers and toes can get pinched. Make sure, in the store, that it is something that can be assembled easily according to your situation. Ask yourself if you’ll need help and if you’ll be able to get that help when needed.

A good crib will have high sides with no cross lattice that could later be used as a ladder. The spacing between the slats should be narrow – no more than 2 inches. Make sure your potential purchase has no metal (mattress base hooks, hinges, etc.) poking out in odd places. Casters are only advisable if you have fairly plush carpeting or a thick matte.

Even the most safely assembled crib can pose a hazard if the wrong mattress is placed in it. To avoid the risk of suffocation from head wedging, make sure that the crib mattress fits snugly against the sides of the crib. A mattress should be chosen for firmness, not seeming comfort from a well-intended caregiver.

When you are shopping for a crib, don’t fall prey to all the cute little extras that can clutter up a crib space. Overly thick comforters, pillows of any sort and bumper pads all pose a suffocation hazards if placed in a crib before a child is physically able to remove himself from a potentially fatal situation. In some studies, these items have been linked to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

One more thing to keep in mind is two years from now. That frail, tiny thing you’re expecting to bring home from the hospital may eventually be a Tonka-truck-fearless-ball-of-destruction. Will the crib hold up to tantrums, markers, crayons, and feats of enviable aerobatics?

Finally, remember that price is not an acceptable substitute. A used twenty-dollar crib may be just as safe, or safer, than the five hundred-dollar beauties at the baby warehouse. Shop around. Get advice from caregivers you trust. Don’t be too embarrassed to shake, pull on, inspect and get all over, under, and around a crib before you make a purchase. It may well avert some tragedy in the future. The whole point is to make sure that your monkey-in-training is in a controlled environment so that you, the caregiver, can go to the bathroom without having to wonder if Junior's okay or what your Li'l Princess is getting into.

To further my opinion of cribs and safety, I have written the following:

Main Entry: 1cage
Pronunciation: 'kAj
Function: noun
1 : a box or enclosure having some openwork for confining or carrying animals (as birds)
4 a : an enclosure resembling a cage in form or purpose {a cashier's cage}

Main Entry: free-range
Pronunciation: 'frE-"rAnj
Function: adjective
: allowed to range and forage with relative freedom {free-range chickens}

I feel I might be tempting ostracism, but a comment on a review I read sparked a notion that has turned itself into a genuine Epinion. One member called a crib a cage. Another member emphatically disagreed. The defending member sarcastically (and sarcasm can be a good thing) posed the question "If the crib is a cage do people who co-sleep do so because they want to raise free range children?”

Okay, a little personal background here: My daughter co-slept with me until she was five months old. My son co-slept with me until he was about the same age. After that, even though I was still nursing each child, it was crib time. Both children slept through most of the night, but I wanted my bed back. Momma sleeps well; household runs well. I seriously doubt that most co-sleeping caregivers get enough R.E.M. sleep to keep them functioning at maximum capacity. As a mother-of-two with Graves' Disease, I don't sleep well as it is - when I can. If you follow any of my rating trends, you'll notice that I'm here at very early and late hours (and everything in between).

As some children mature, they become dangerously adventurous. My own daughter walked at the late age of eight months, but thankfully, was never much of a climber. Despite a caregiver’s best efforts, some children will escape a crib or playpen, and in some cases a baby gate. This presents an obvious hazard to the child’s physical safety and a caregiver’s mental well being. In extreme cases, I would recommend a low-to-the-ground toddler bed, a well childproofed room, and ‘double-gated’ (two gates, one above the other, fitted in a jamb) doors.

Even a co-sleeping caregiver eventually concedes to a cage of some kind. Playpens, baby gates and to some extent swings, carriers, slings, walkers, and saucers are all forms of ‘Baby Jail’. I’m not intimating that these caregivers are guilty of raising free-range children; in fact, it is the furthest thought from my mind. I absolutely and strenuously advocate co-sleeping for as long as it is possible or tolerable for your situation. I co-slept and according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, I am a “strict and unaffectionate parent with many rules for my children to follow.” So, even though DCF is incompetent, presumptive, and wrong, at least as far as my case is concerned, I do enforce age-appropriate rules and my children are far from free-range due in some part to my utilization of cages.

Every good caregiver has the safety of their child in mind. With that mindset comes the necessity of a well constructed, sturdy, pleasantly outfitted cage.

Note: If you are the members to whom I have referred and would like your profile linked, e-mail me, and I'll be happy to edit this.

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Member: Bowie
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