Bassinet vs Crib vs Cradle – What’s the Difference?

When thinking about the things a baby actually needs, what comes to mind? Along with love, food, shelter, clothing and a car seat, a safe place to sleep definitely makes the list of non-negotiable items.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the vast array of options for bassinets, cribs and cradles. If you are feeling a little confused by the differences between the choices and wondering which one might be the best fit for your family, you are not alone.

Bassinet vs Crib vs Cradle

Here is a breakdown of each type of baby bed and some of the features you should look for while shopping.

What is a Bassinet?

Bassinets provide a cozy, basket-like sleeping area for young babies. A stable base raises the bassinet to a height that is roughly even to the average adult’s hip. With their taller structure and shallow bed area, many parents find placing their baby into a bassinet a much easier task than leaning over the side of a crib.

Bassinets often feature decorative elements like a hood, ruffles or cushioned sides, and bedding is usually included. While some models have stationary feet, many feature wheels that make it easy to move the bassinet around your home.

A bassinet is significantly smaller than a crib and typically takes up less than half the space. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for at least six months, and bassinets are often ideal for placing at the parent’s bedside. This can be especially true if you have a small master bedroom.

Once your baby reaches a weight of about 20 pounds or begins to roll over, the bassinet becomes a tipping risk and should no longer be used. Depending on how fast your baby grows and develops, you should plan to transition your baby out of the bassinet somewhere around four months of age.

Pros

  • Many babies seem to prefer a bassinet’s snug bed size.
  • Bassinets are smaller and weigh far less than a crib, and they are usually easy to move around the house.
  • For parents who want to room-share, a bassinet can be a much more convenient option.
  • Bassinets can be a great choice if you have a small living space.
  • Due to their short sides and high mattress position, placing your baby in a bassinet is easy.
  • A bassinet is usually less expensive than a crib.

Cons

  • Its smaller size and higher center of gravity make the bassinet a potential tipping hazard.
  • At a maximum, you will be able to use a bassinet for about four to five months.

What is a Crib?

Developed during the 19th century, the crib was originally a modification of the bassinet. It quickly gained popularity as a safe way to keep an older baby in their bed.
From curving and artistic to clean and minimalist, cribs come in a wide variety of styles in three main designs:

Traditional Crib – Featuring a simple design and a fixed rectangular shape, this is the classic style that has been around for many decades. With no extra hardware or convertible pieces, traditional cribs are often easier to set up.

Convertible Crib – These models feature removable hardware and sides that can be reconfigured into a toddler bed or daybed. Even though this type of crib can be more expensive at the outset, it may prove to be less costly over the long run since your child can use it for many years.

Round Crib – This is the least common type of crib available, and it is typically a more expensive specialty option. 
A round crib style can provide your baby with the most open space to move around and play, and some people may find them to be more visually appealing.

A crib can be used by babies from the newborn days to the toddler stage. With its large size and stable base, a crib is not a tipping hazard and can safely be used after your baby can sit and stand up.

An adjustable support setting allows you to tailor the mattress height to your baby’s level of activity. While newborns can safely use the highest level, you will need to lower the mattress when your baby can sit up and again once your baby can pull themselves up to stand.

Some cribs offer just one low mattress setting and feature a safety gate. The hinged top portion swings down to let you set your baby in the crib and then swings back up and fastens shut.

Standard-sized cribs hold mattresses that measure 52 inches long by 28 inches wide. Mini cribs are also available, holding mattresses that are 38 inches long and 24 inches wide. A mini crib could be a good choice for traveling or if you have a small house.

Slats on one, two, three or all four crib sides allow your baby to see what’s going on in the rest of the room. Some models feature built-in storage drawers on the crib’s side or bottom.

Most modern cribs are made out of wood or a composite material and are available in a wide array of colors. If you want all your baby’s nursery furniture to match, many stores offer cribs as a part of coordinating furniture sets.

Pros

  • Cribs have a stable, sturdy design that will not tip over.
  • You can use a crib for a much longer period of time, even several years if it is a convertible design.
  • If bought as a set, you can coordinate all your nursery furniture.
  • Standard-sized mattresses and bedding are easy to find.
  • Mini cribs are an option.
  • Cribs come in a wide variety of style, color and design options.

Cons

  • Some young babies may find the open space of a crib to be unsettling.
  • Full-size cribs are large, heavy and can be very hard to move.
  • It may be difficult or impossible to fit a crib in your bedroom.
  • Especially with convertible styles, a crib may be challenging to assemble.

What is a Cradle?

Cradles are the oldest of all baby bed options. While the exact time period when they first came into use is unknown, there is evidence of cradles being used in ancient times.

One of the cradle’s biggest advantages is the gentle rocking motion it provides. Classic designs sit low to the ground on rounded bottom rockers, while many newer cradle designs feature a suspended bed that is similar to a hammock.

Today’s cradles offer the options of a traditional or modern look. Traditional styles are typically made from wood and can have either clean lines or ornate carving. Modern cradles often have mesh or padded sides and feature soft, contemporary colors.

While some cradles may come with a hood or canopy, most have a simple open top. Bedding is usually not included with a cradle.

Like a bassinet, cradles are designed to be used for very young infants. Once your baby can roll over, you will need to move them to a crib.

Pros

  • Babies often find a cradle’s rocking motion and smaller size soothing.
  • Its small size makes a cradle easy to use in almost any room.
  • Cradles are less expensive than a crib.

Cons

  • Your baby will only be able to use a cradle for a few months.
  • If the cradle sits very low to the ground, placing your baby into it may be a bit of a challenge.

What to Look For When Shopping for a Bassinet, Crib or Cradle

A design that meets current safety recommendations. Safety is your number one concern when shopping for your baby’s bed.

The newest set of safety standards was issued by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2011. Here are just a few of the current guidelines:

  • Cribs that have drop-down sides have been banned due to numerous safety issues. They are no longer sold in stores and you should never use one.
  • To prevent a baby from getting their head stuck, crib slats should not be more than 2 3/8 inches apart.
  • Corner posts should be no more than 1/16th of an inch high. However, corner posts are not a safety hazard if they will be supporting a canopy and are taller than 16 inches.

Since safety standards have been updated throughout the years, buying a new bassinet, crib or cradle is the best way to ensure your baby’s bed meets current guidelines.

Additionally, even if a used bed comes from friends or family, you don’t know the exact history of the item and whether you have every piece of the necessary hardware.

Easy assembly.

While you would probably be wise to set aside a fair amount of time for setting up your crib, choosing a model that makes the assembly process as simple as possible is a good idea.

Injuries have been reported from cribs that were not set up properly, so it’s important to make sure you can complete the assembly required.

No gaps between the mattress and the side of the bed.

While bassinets usually include a mattress that has been specifically designed for your product, a mattress for a crib or cradle is almost always an additional purchase.

Look for a firm, thin mattress that fits the dimensions of your product exactly. A snug fit will help ensure that your baby does not get caught in any space between the mattress and the crib.

Stable construction.

The best way to gauge the stability of a baby bed is to handle it yourself. Don’t be afraid to push down firmly on the mattress or rattle the crib’s sides.

Inspect the feet or wheels, if applicable. If your crib or bassinet has wheels, make sure there is a mechanism for locking the wheels in place.

If your crib or bassinet folds down, ensure that they have a strong locking mechanism that holds the bed securely open.

A teething rail.

Almost all babies love to chew on any object they can get to their mouths, and once your baby starts to stand up in their crib, the top rail is likely to be the perfect height for biting. This could lead to your baby ingesting paint or getting a splinter if you have a wooden crib.

Teething rails are plastic guards that cover the top rail and are safe for your baby to bite on. Check to make sure the teething rail is attached well and will not easily snap off.

Check to see how far a cradle will rock. Traditional styles with bottom rockers can be a suffocation hazard if your baby’s movement causes the cradle to tilt too far to one side.

Cradles that feature a suspended, swinging bed are less of a hazard, while older or heirloom pieces tend to be especially problematic.

Deciding whether a bassinet, crib or cradle is the best choice for your baby will depend on several factors, including your goals, budget and the size of your house or bedroom.

Learning about the differences between each bed option and knowing what features to look for while shopping can help you feel confident in choosing the baby bed that works best for your family.

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