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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Nursery Furnishings

Safety is the most important consideration when choosing the furnishings (furniture, linens, toiletries and decorations) for your baby's room. Since your child spends so many hours in this room, often unattended, you will want it to be interesting and inviting, but also calm, comforting and as safe as possible. Make sure all the furniture you buy meets basic safety standards. Major safety considerations for specific pieces of furniture are highlighted below. You can find more information at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site (www.cpsc.gov).

Furniture

Crib

All cribs should meet the safety regulations set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, because every year babies die in accidents involving cribs. Even brand-new cribs can be unsafe if assembled or used incorrectly. The Consumer Product Safety Commission discourages the use of older cribs made before federal safety standards were developed in 1985. If you do choose to use an older crib, make sure it meets these safety regulations as well as the voluntary industry standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Safety Standards For Full-Sized Cribs:

  • Never use a crib with broken or missing parts. Check the screws, bolts and mattress supports to make sure they are secure before placing your child in the crib. Re-check the crib frequently and replace any parts that are loose or broken.

  • Corner posts should not extend more than 1/16 inch (1.5 millimeters) above the top of the end panel (unless the crib has a canopy). Corner posts can be catch points for items placed around a baby's neck or clothing worn by the child. If you already have a crib with such knobs (for example, cribs with decorative knobs on corner posts), the knobs should be unscrewed or sawed off to match the level of the headboard or footboard. Sand off splinters and sharp corners.

  • Avoid older cribs with decorative openings in the edges of the headboard or footboard, as they may allow the infant's head to become stuck and could possibly lead to strangulation.

  • Avoid cribs with fancy decorative pieces that can break off and pose a choking hazard, or remove these pieces before using the crib.

  • Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8 inches (60 millimeters) apart to avoid trapping the infant's head. A 12-ounce soda can should not be able to fit between the slats. Also, be sure that all slats are fastened securely, and never use a crib with broken or missing slats.

  • The crib mattress should be firm and fit snugly into the crib, with no more than two fingers' width between the mattress and the side of the crib. Set the mattress in a lower position when the child can sit up and in the lowest position before the child begins to pull himself up to stand.

  • Bumper bedding (the padding attached to the inside of the crib to prevent your baby from bumping his head or sticking an arm or leg through the slats) should fit around the entire crib and tie or snap into place. It should have straps or ties in each corner, in the middle of each long side, and on both the top and bottom edges. Trim any excess length after securing the ties so the baby cannot get tangled up in them. Remove the padding once the baby can pull himself up to a standing position, so he cannot step on them to climb out.

  • Remove and destroy all plastic wrapping materials. Never use plastic bags as mattress covers. The plastic film may cling to a baby's face and cause suffocation.

  • The crib should not be placed near any drapery or cords. All mobiles above a baby's crib should be placed out of his reach. Remove the mobile when the baby starts to sit up (around 5 months of age).

  • If you are using an older crib, be sure that the paint on it does not contain lead. If you are unsure, have the paint tested. If you plan to refinish the crib, use only high-quality lead-free enamel household paint. Check the label on the paint can to make sure the manufacturer does not recommend against using the paint on items such as cribs. Allow the crib to dry thoroughly before using, so there are no residual fumes.

Some other things to look for when buying a crib:

  • Consider the ease of release of the sides of the crib. Sides that can be lowered with one hand and a minimum of noise can be helpful, especially when you are carrying a sleeping baby. Avoid a crib with sides that lower too easily, however, so your baby cannot lower the sides himself.
  • Wheels or casters can make moving the crib much easier. Look for cribs with metal wheels, which are more durable than plastic, and those that have a way to lock the wheels in place to prevent unwanted sliding.

Mattress

The mattress should fit tightly in the crib, leaving room for no more than two adult fingers to fit between the side of the crib and the mattress. An infant can suffocate if his or her head or body becomes wedged between the mattress and the crib sides. The mattress should also be firm, to provide comfort and support for the baby while sleeping, and reduce the risk of suffocation.

There are two types of mattresses: foam and inner-spring. Foam mattresses are generally less expensive and weigh less than inner-spring mattresses, which can make changing sheets easier. The quality of a foam mattress is related to its density: Higher density means more support and more firmness. Inner-spring mattresses are usually more durable, and may keep their shape longer than foam mattresses. The quality of an inner-spring mattress is related to the number of coils — the higher the number, the firmer the mattress.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a mattress:

  • Check the firmness by squeezing the mattress; in general, firmer is better.
  • Choose a fire-retardant mattress. Most new mattresses are fire-retardant, but older or used models may not be.
  • Look for a sturdy mattress cover that is water resistant to withstand tears, holes and stains.
  • Check that there are plenty of vent holes on the side of the mattress to get rid of odors — the more vent holes, the better.

Bassinet Or Cradle

Some parents prefer to use a bassinet or cradle rather than a crib for their baby's first few months at home. Bassinets and cradles have the advantage of holding the baby in a secure, smaller space, which may be comforting for some newborns. Make sure the mattress always fits snugly and that the bassinet or cradle is in a low-traffic area and out of reach of curious toddlers and pets.

Changing Table

Parents who have a changing table say they couldn't live without it, while parents who don't have one claim they don't need it. A changing table provides a convenient surface for changing your baby, allowing you to diaper your baby more comfortably without bending down to bed height or kneeling on the floor.

Look for a sturdy changing table with a wipe-clean, padded surface and a restraining belt and/or safety railing around the top to help prevent your baby from rolling. Also, choose a table that provides drawers or shelves underneath to keep supplies, such as diapers and wipes, close at hand. Never leave your baby unattended, even for a moment, on a changing table or other surface.

Chest Of Drawers

It helps to have a chest of drawers or dresser to store clothes, books, toys and other supplies. Choose a sturdy piece of furniture that will last throughout childhood.

Miscellaneous

Other things you may want to consider include:

  • Bouncy-seat
  • Infant swing
  • Glider/rocking chair
  • Baby bathtub
  • Wicker hamper
  • Mobile
  • Diaper pail
  • Bookshelf
  • Baby monitor
  • Toy basket or toy box
  • High chair
Linens

You will need crib-sized sheets. Buy at least two (you may want as many as three or four), so you can change the bed without having to do laundry each time. Use cotton sheets, which are gentler on your baby's skin and less likely to cause allergies. Make sure the sheet fits your mattress snugly. If you start your baby out in a cradle or bassinet, you can purchase special-fitted sheets, although regular crib sheets can be adapted for use. Most babies will outgrow their bassinet or cradle within three months, if not sooner, so don't spend too much money on short-term linen needs. Regular crib sheets can be used for many months; furthermore, most crib mattresses fit toddler beds.

In addition to sheets, you will need:

  • One or two soft and warm but lightweight blankets for the crib. Do not place quilts, comforters, pillows or stuffed animals in the crib; soft bedding has been identified as a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome.
  • One or two rubber or plastic properly fitted mattress protectors.
  • Two or three receiving blankets for the car, stroller or diaper bag.
  • Three or four baby towels and washcloths for baths.
Toiletries

There are many items marketed for babies, but you really will only need a few essentials for your infant. Discuss the following items with your baby's doctor to make sure they are appropriate for your baby and find out when you should start using them:

  • "No tears" baby bath: This doubles as baby soap and shampoo and is useful through your baby's first year and beyond.
  • Baby shampoo: Can be used in addition to baby bath. Make sure the shampoo is also "tear-free."
  • Diaper rash ointment: Prevents and relieves most diaper rashes. If diaper rash persists, see your baby's doctor. He or she might prescribe a different ointment.
  • Comb and brush set: The comb should be small, and the bristles of the brush should be very soft.
  • Safety nail scissors: A small pair of nail scissors or a baby-sized nail clipper will be needed to trim your baby's nails. Baby nail files may also come in handy.
  • Petroleum jelly: Use it to protect your baby's diaper area. You can also use it to lubricate the tip of a rectal thermometer before taking your baby's temperature.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Use it during the first few weeks to help dry the umbilical cord, if recommended by your doctor, and later to clean your baby's thermometer after use. Wash the thermometer first with soap and water and then swab it with alcohol.
  • Nasal aspirator: For removing mucus from the nose.
  • Thermometer: A digital thermometer is easiest to use and read. Look for one that can be used in the rectum (for infants) and under the arm or in the mouth (for older children).
Decorations

Choose pieces that can be used for various purposes-both now and in the future. Wheeled stacking bins, baskets and plastic crates are great for storing diapers and supplies now, and sporting goods and toys later on. Bookcases should have adjustable shelves-for folded clothing, books and stuffed animals now, and games and schoolbooks later. Wheel-mounted under-the-bed storage containers are great for small rooms.

Consider decorations that your child will not quickly outgrow. "Baby" wallpaper and other decorations like teddy bears and unicorns may suit a nursery fine, but what happens when your child hits first grade and wants to bring his pals home? Unless you're planning to redecorate, stick with decorating themes that are also appropriate for older children.

And always keep safety first. Install smoke detectors on each floor of your home, especially near sleeping areas, and check batteries regularly. Purchase child-proofing accessories for when baby starts crawling or walking, such as electrical outlet covers, nonskid pads for beneath throw rugs, cord wraps to wind window treatment pull cords, and window locks and window guards. Secure bookcases to the wall so they cannot be tipped over. Any hanging mobiles or activity gyms should be well out of baby's reach; remove them from the crib when baby is able to sit up.

No matter how you decorate, make sure not to forget the ceiling. Since it's the part of the room your infant views the most, it's a perfect place for posters and other decorations. What do babies like? According to researchers, they are most drawn to faces — of people as well as animals.

Last updated March 11, 2008




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