Baby furniture buying guide

Don't purchase a cot, cradle, playpen or highchair until you've read our informative guide.
 
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01 .A safe sleeping environment

Playpen

Checklist

Use the checklist below to make sure you have taken all necessary steps to guarantee your baby’s safe sleeping environment. Buying a cot that meets the requirements of the Australian Standard is only the first step to reduce the risk.

  • Put your baby on their back to sleep—not on their tummy.
  • Leave the baby’s head uncovered when sleeping—don’t put a hat, hood or rug on the baby’s head.
  • Position the baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot. Make up the cot so the baby’s head can neither slide under the bed clothes nor get trapped against the head of the cot.
  • Place the cot away from windows, heaters or power points. This will reduce the risk of injuries or death by strangulation (from curtains/cords), falls, burns and electrocution.
  • Leave the space above the cot free of objects such as pictures or mirrors that could fall on the child.
  • If the cot has an adjustable base, move it to the lowest setting as soon as the child is able to sit unaided.
  • Check the cot regularly for signs of wear. Repair peeling paint or transfers immediately, as a child may swallow and choke on them.
  • Once your child can stand in the cot, remove anything that they could use as a climbing aid – large toys, cot bumper, pillows etc.
  • Don’t allow small objects that could cause the child to choke to be placed in the cot or anywhere within reach of the child.
  • Don’t leave mobiles or toys with stretch/elastic cords in or within reach of cots.
  • Don’t place soft, fluffy products such as pillows or comforters under babies while they sleep.
  • Don’t use V- or U-shaped pillows for children under two years of age. Small children can become wedged in the pillow and suffocate. It’s safer not to use a pillow at all for children under two.
  • Quilts, doonas, duvets and cot bumpers aren’t recommended in a cot for babies under one year.
  • Never use electric blankets or hot-water bottles for babies or young children.
  • When the child is able to climb out of the cot, it’s time to move them to a bed or a mattress on the floor.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Buying secondhand?

Scottish study found that babies who slept on a mattress that had been used by others had an increased rate of cot death. There could be a number of reasons for the finding:

  • A mattress that’s been used for a long time is likely to be softer than a new mattress. A soft mattress is a SIDS risk.
  • A used mattress may be dirtier than a new mattress. SIDS and Kids recommends you use a clean, well-fitting, firm mattress.
  • CHOICE recommends you at least buy a new cot or cradle/bassinet mattress if you’re buying secondhand or borrowing from someone else.

Bassinets and cradles

Tiny newborn babies may not easily settle in the comparatively large space a cot offers; an attractive, if short-lived, alternative is a bassinet or a cradle.

  • A bassinet is usually woven of willow, cane or plastic, and often comes with a hood or raised frame over which you can drape a mosquito net. If it’s on a wheeled stand, you can move it easily from room to room. But babies grow out of them quite quickly (at about four to five months). You may have to get a mattress separately. If you’re also buying a wheeled stand, note that some stands will fit both bassinet and bath. Some strollers can be used as a pram by means of a detachable bassinet.
  • Cradles are usually made from wood, and mattresses may cost extra. They too are quickly outgrown. They have a lateral rocking action which may soothe an upset baby. However, it’s been suggested that babies might actually find the side-to-side motion of a conventional cradle unsettling. Cradles should meet the safety requirements of the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4385.1996 but, like most other standards for baby products, this standard is unfortunately a voluntary one.

What to look for

Both cradle/bassinet and mattress must be designed for good ventilation to minimise the risk of asphyxiation. Make sure the mattress is firm and not too thick. Cradles that rock should have a locking device and a tilt limiter or self-levelling limiter:

  • A rocking cradle locking device lets you lock the cradle into a level position when you leave the room, so the baby can’t tilt the cradle to one side, increasing the risk of suffocation. It also prevents anyone else (like young siblings, for example) from rocking the cradle when you aren’t around.
  • A tilt limiter or self-levelling limiter prevents vigorous side-to-side rocking which could cause the baby to fall out of the cradle. The tilt limiter limits the tilt to 5° horizontally, while the self-levelling limiter limits it to 10°.
 
 

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In many of CHOICE’s past tests we found cots that failed to meet basic safety requirements of the now mandatory standard for household cots: AS/NZS 2172.

Poorly designed cots can kill: According to Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), between 1985 and 1995 there were 15 deaths in Victoria related to nursery furniture. Eleven were associated with cots and their environments. Of these, seven children strangled or suffocated as a result of the cot design or a modification, including one whose clothing was caught on a wing nut.

CHOICE cot tests

In past tests of cots, CHOICE regularly found potentially unsafe models. In fact, in each of our four tests from the mid-1980s to 1990s, the majority of cots tested had major safety faults. So we were pleased to report in August 1998 that our continual campaigning had finally paid off: the Australian/New Zealand Standard Cots for household use–safety requirements (AS/NZS 2172.1995) was made mandatory from 30 June 1998, for all cots—new and secondhand. This means every cot on sale now should comply with it.

Since 1998 CHOICE tests have shown a trend towards improvements in safety. More and more cots in each test meet all the key safety requirements, and most cots that fail do so only by small margins. The August 2009 CHOICE test is no exception; of 12 tested cots eight are safe and we found four to recommend above the rest. However, we also found four that fail safety tests. These generally only just fail, or fail only when incorrectly assembled. While the risk of injury from these cots may be small, any failure of safety requirements is unacceptable.

What to buy

Bebe Care Surrey Cot Slat End

Bebe care Surrey Cot Slate End Price: $665
Good

  • Passed all the safety tests
  • Converts to a junior bed

Bad

  • Minor failure of information requirements

Childcare Balmoral

Childcare Balmoral Price: $348
Good

  • Passed all the safety tests
  • Passed all the information requirements
  • Converts to a junior bed

Bad

  • Nothing to mention

Love'n'care Florida II Cot

Love N Care Florida II Cot Price: $600
Good

  • Passed all the safety tests
  • Passed all the information requirements
  • Has a storage drawer under the cot
  • Converts to a junior bed

Bad

  • Test sample had misaligned screwhole on base, the base had to be replaced

Tasman Eco Siena

Yasman Eco Siena Price: $669
Good

  • Passed all the safety tests
  • Passed all the information requirements
  • Converts to a junior bed with optional extras
  • Mattress supplied

Bad

  • Nothing to mention

What to look for

Cot essentials

  • Take a tape measure with you when you’re shopping for a cot.
  • Standards certified The cot should be certified to AS/NZS 2172, preferably the current 2003 version; most parts of this standard are actually mandatory. Our tests show that some cots with this label might still fail some safety criteria, perhaps due to manufacturing variations, but standards certification is the benchmark. Most cots are certified when first produced, but might then be manufactured for several years without ever being re-certified, which means manufacturing variations can subtly change the cot over time. Choice tests frequently pick up such problems. We think manufacturers should get their cots re-certified at least every two years.
  • Sturdy and durable All components should be permanently fixed or require the use of a tool to take apart.
  • Deep enough to stop a child from falling out The distance from the top of the mattress to the top of the lowest side when the dropside is closed should be at least 500mm when the base is set in the lowest position. The depth should be 300mm when it is in the upper position. The depth should also be at least 150mm when the dropside is down.
  • Mattress fits snugly around all sides. When you choose a mattress, make sure there is no more than a 40mm gap between the edge of the mattress and the adjacent cot side when the mattress is pushed to the opposite side. Gaps at the sides are a suffocation risk – your baby could roll face-first into them.
  • No head entrapment hazards. Any large space or opening must be between 50mm and 95mm to stop your baby from either getting caught or falling out.
  • No limb entrapment hazards. Smaller openings should not be between 30mm and 50mm wide.
  • No finger entrapment hazards Any space or opening should not be between 5mm and 12mm wide, so little fingers don’t get caught.
  • No hazardous protrusions Nothing should stick out or point up that could hit a child’s head or snag on their clothing.
  • Finish All the components of the cot should be blunted, smooth and gently contoured.
  • No footholds There shouldn’t be any component or structure in the cot that could be used by the child as a ledge for climbing out.
  • The dropside should be secure and smooth to operate. The dropside on the cot should be impossible for a child to open but should be convenient for the child’s carer to operate.
  • Dropside clearance When you open the dropside, it should be at least 50mm off the floor to clear your feet.

Additional features

  • Junior bed conversion If the cot converts to a junior bed, you’ll get much longer use from it.
  • Teething strips These are plastic strips on the wooden edges of the cot, such as the top of the dropside, so that neither the baby nor the cot is damaged if it’s chewed on.
  • Castors/brakes Castor wheels make the cot easier to move around, but there should be lockable brakes on at least two wheels.

Going on holidays, visiting relatives with your baby in tow, leaving junior with friends when you go out, or looking after others’ offspring are some of the occasions when a portable cot can come in handy.

A new mandatory safety standard for portable cots came into effect on 1 March 2009. It’s a basic set of safety tests based on the voluntary Australian standard for folding cots, AS/NZS 2195:1999. The full standard includes many other tests, such as for finger and limb traps; sharp edges and points; and strength of construction. CHOICE welcomes the introduction of the mandatory safety standard, but it is a minimum standard. Portable cots should ideally comply with the full voluntary Australian standard.

What to buy

CHOICE tested portable cots in October 2007. All the recommended shown below portable cots passed our major safety tests, but some of their accessories didn't. All are quick and easy to set up and fold away. Prices are recommended retail prices, as advised by manufacturers in August/September 2007, or the price we paid.

Bertini Jet 3 in 1 003945

(Discontinued but might still be available in some shops)
Bertini Jet 3 in 1Price: $199
Good points

  • Easy to move around using wheels while set up or packed.

Bad points

  • The changing table has finger and limb entrapment hazards.
  • Parts of the toy bar can be broken off and swallowed or inhaled.
  • It’s heavy to carry when you can’t wheel it.

Love N Care Play Land BP998

Love N care Play Land BP998Price: $170
Good points

  • Easy to move around using wheels while set up or packed.

Bad points

  • The bassinette has finger entrapment hazards.
  • The changing table has a finger entrapment hazard, and could trap the baby’s head if the table’s in place while the baby’s in the cot. It also has openings where child’s clothing could get caught and cause strangulation. You should always remove the change table when the child’s in the cot.
  • It’s heavy to carry when you can’t wheel it.

Mother's Choice Nova 2 in 1 005854

mother's Choice Nova 2 in 1 005854Price: $160
Good points

  • Passed all safety tests.
  • Easy to move around using wheels while set up or packed.

Bad points

  • It’s heavy to carry when you can’t wheel it.

Childcare Galaxy 077200

Childcare Galaxy 077200Price: $120
Good points

  • Passed all safety tests.

Bad points

  • No wheels.
  • Heavy.

Steelcraft Sonnet 32416

Steelcraft Sonnet 32416Price: $109
Good points

  • Passed all safety tests.

Bad points

  • No wheels and it’s heavy to carry.

Baby Love Momento 3 in 1 BL950

(Discontinued but might still be available in some shops)
baby Love Momento 3 in 1 BL950Price: $180
Good points

Easy to move around using wheels while set up or packed.

Bad points

  • The cot has two locking mechanisms, as required by the Australian Standard, but in the unlikely event that both fail, there’s a risk the baby’s head could become trapped. *
  • The bassinette has a finger entrapment hazard. *
  • The changing table could trap the baby’s head if the table is in place while the baby’s in the cot. You should always remove the change table when the child’s in the cot. *
  • It’s heavy to carry when you can’t wheel it.

* The manufacturer disagreed with our results.

Swallow Lite ‘N’ Easy Echo

Swallow Lite N Easy EchoPrice: $79
Good points

  • None to mention.

Bad points

  • Gaps in the top corners of the cot could trap a limb. *
  • No wheels and it’s heavy to carry.

* The manufacturer disagreed with our results. It's possible that manufacturing variations might explain why our sample failed.

What to look for

Safety

Portable cots can be dangerous. Here's how to keep your child safe.

  • Don't use a portable cot if your child weighs more than 15kg.
  • Don't put additional mattresses in the cot.
  • Inside surfaces should be free of bumps, ledges and protruding parts so children can’t hit their heads, get their clothing snagged or use them as a foothold to climb out of the cot.
  • There should be no entrapment areas, where children can trap limbs, heads or fingers.
  • There should be no sharp edges or points where a child could injure itself.
  • The mattress should be firm enough and fit snugly without gaps on any side.
  • Remove all toys from the cot when the child is sleeping.
  • The rails should have two locking mechanisms to prevent accidental collapse and closure. Check these before placing your child in the cot.
  • The cot floor shouldn’t sag. Press down on the base to check this.
  • Check that the portable cot you buy complies not only with the mandatory standard but also with the voluntary Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 2195:1999).

Features

  • The cot should be easy to assemble and fold up (all the recommended in this test are), not be too heavy and have a carry bag. Some models fold such that the wheels protrude from the carry bag, so it's easier for you to wheel the bag around.
  • The mesh sides should provide good ventilation and allow you to easily see the baby.
  • A pocket on the outside — out of reach of the baby — is handy for storage. An insect net for the top will keep out larger insects, but smaller ones like mosquitoes may still get in through the side mesh.
  • Some cots have a removable fitted sheet, which can be taken out for washing.
  • Accessories like a bassinette or change table can be useful, but they also have risks. See What to buy and the profiles for more details.

Why not use a portable cot all the time?

Portable cots are often cheaper than regular ones, plus you can move them around easily and take them with you when you’re out and about. So why not skip buying a regular cot and just stick with the portable? It’s better to use a regular cot on a daily basis.

  • Regular cots are sturdier and more durable than portable cots. They can also accommodate larger babies, so you’ll get more use out of them. An average two-year-old will be slightly larger than the recommended size for most portable cots, whereas a regular cot — especially one with a bed-conversion kit — can be used till they’re three or four.
  • Regular cots are higher off the ground than a portable cot, so you don’t have to bend so far to pick the baby up.

Small travel cots

Travel cots have foldable wire frames so they’re lightweight and very compact when folded, UV-resistant fabric to help protect against the sun, and mesh to keep out the bugs.
CHOICE reviewed two small travel cots in February 2008, to see how robust they were, and how easy they were to transport and use.

Baby NationBaby Nation Pop-Up Sleep Easy

Price: $85
Weight: 1kg
Dimensions when folded (H x W x D, cm): 28 x 31 x 22
Dimensions when assembled (H x W x D, cm): 57 x 55 x 95
Contact: (03) 9553 0024; Dale Importers (Australia)

Kinderkot Indoor/Outdoor Travel Bed

KinderkotPrice: $140
Weight: 3kg
Dimensions when folded (H x W x D, cm): 44 x 48 x 24
Dimensions when assembled (H x W x D, cm): 62 x 135 x 89
Contact: www.kinderkot.com.au

Update July 2008: Kinderkot has advised that this product has changed since our test to include velcro strips on the base and sleeping bag to stop the sleeping bag moving around, changes to the ties and strengthening of the metal frame joiners.

Safety

  • Neither cot has any major safety risks. They’re robust enough in construction, and don’t have any potential head, limb or finger traps. However, there is some risk from the soft bedding (the Kinderkot has a soft sleeping bag and the Baby Nation has a soft fabric mattress). A baby sleeping face down on these could be at risk of suffocation.
  • A firm mattress is better for a baby, though it might make the cot harder to fold. As long as your baby sleeps on his or her back, as recommended by the SIDS Council of Australia, there shouldn’t be any significant risk from these cots.
  • The Baby Nation is suitable for babies up to about 18 months old. Kinderkot now recommends that the sleeping bag shouldn’t be used for children under 18 months and is suitable for children up to the age of four years. Unlike standard portable cots, both are too small to use as playpens.
  • If you use one of these cots outdoors — such as at a picnic or when camping — you should anchor the cot to ensure it can’t move around. The Kinderkot has four loops suitable as anchoring points, though no pegs are provided. The Baby Nation has no anchoring points, so might not be suitable outdoors on a windy day.

04.Bedding and accessories

 

The asthma connection

  • It’s been suggested there’s a link between the high incidence of asthma in Australian and New Zealand children and the use of sheepskins and lambskins for baby rugs in these countries. This is because the wool pile of the tanned skin is a good breeding ground for house dust mites, which are known to trigger asthma attacks in many sufferers.
  • Dust mites are invisible to the naked eye; they thrive on dead skin and the conditions provided by bedding and carpets. Research from the University of Sydney, reported in 1988, showed that one gram of dust from sheepskins contained twice as many dust mites as normal blankets.
  • It was also found that sheepskins used in hospitals didn’t have these enormous populations of mites, principally because of the severe washing procedures they undergo in hospital—very hot water for washing and rinsing and high temperatures for drying. Domestic washing routines tend not to involve such high temperatures, but they are essential to keep a baby sheepskin or lambskin free from the mites.
  • If you do buy a tanned skin product for your baby, we suggest that you wash it regularly in very hot water (50°–55°C).
  • The Asthma Foundation of NSW recommends that you have your child tested to see whether they are allergic to dust mite before you introduce costly measures to reduce allergens in your home.

Sheets and other bedding

  • Cot-size sheets are available in pure cotton or cotton/polyester mixes. Polyester mixes are easy to wash and dry. Cotton is probably more comfortable in hot weather.
  • Fitted sheets are very convenient.
  • You can easily make the much smaller sheets needed to fit cradles and bassinets, and it’s economical, too. Alternatively, use cot sheets, either folded or with the excess material tucked tightly under the mattress.
  • If you can’t find or don’t want to buy bassinet sheets, you can use a full-size pillowcase around some mattresses.
  • You’ll need two or three blankets, possibly more, depending on the climate. Cotton cellular or waffle weave blankets are an easy-care option.
  • Bassinet-size blankets can be used in the cot when your baby has outgrown the bassinet, just use the blankets sideways. They can also be used on the cot mattress, providing an extra layer between the bottom sheet and mattress protector or mattress.
  • Cot blankets can be folded in half when your baby’s small.
  • Mattress protectors can save a lot of hassle—just make sure they fit well (check that the height of a fitted mattress protector is okay for your size mattress). Waterproof backing increases their efficiency, but in a hot, humid environment, may make baby sweat. Using a cotton blanket, a towel or cloth nappies between the sheet and mattress protector might do the trick.

Bunny rugs and other wraps

Large squares of flannelette cloth or muslin, also called cuddlies. They’re usually used for wrapping around babies for comfort and security, as well as warmth, although not all babies like being wrapped.

  • They can be used as sheets and light coverings in the pram.
  • Large ones (around a metre square) are more useful than smaller ones.

Sleeping bags

  • Sleeping bags are useful in cold weather as they keep the baby covered up.
  • A young baby may fit into a quilted, papoose-style zipped bag. It shouldn’t be much longer than the baby, though, so the baby doesn’t slide down inside and suffocate.
  • Some styles have handles so you can carry the baby in the bag.
  • For older children larger versions are available with sleeves but no separated leg section, so the bottom half is the bag.
  • If you plan to use a sleeping bag for your child, get them used to sleeping in one well before they learn to walk. This way they probably won’t attempt to walk while wearing it, on or off the bed.

Quilts

  • Baby-size quilts are available in a variety of weights and fabrics, from inexpensive polyester-filled versions to very warm and luxurious feather and down styles.
  • Pick lightweight bedding so your baby doesn’t overheat.
  • Chain stores are a good source of inexpensive bedding.
  • Be aware, however, that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) organisations recommend not using a quilt, doona, duvet or pillow for babies in their first year.

Pillows

  • Young babies don’t need pillows. Indeed, they may present a suffocation hazard if the baby rolls face down and is then unable to change position.
  • If you want to raise the baby’s head slightly (when the baby has a blocked nose caused by a cold, for example), place a small pillow or rolled-up towel under the mattress itself.
  • And it isn’t only newborns who have problems with pillows: after the deaths of three toddlers in three years associated with U-shaped pillows, a South Australian coroner in June 1998 called for a warning to be issued against children under two using these pillows.

Cot bumpers

  • We don’t recommend using cot bumpers. Anything with strings or ribbons attached is a potential strangulation or choking hazard in a cot.
  • An inquisitive child may even use a firmly padded bumper to gain a foothold while attempting to climb out of the cot.
  • Or a young baby may roll against it and suffocate.

Mosquito net

  • Mosquito nets come in cotton and synthetic materials and should be cleaned regularly as they attract dust.
  • Some children may have quite severe reactions to mosquito bites such as intense itching, swelling and redness, and a net provides reliable, non-chemical protection. Loose or ill-fitting window and door screens need replacing if they are to be effective.
  • Nets for bassinets and cradles may be included in a quilt and liner set.
  • A larger net for a single bed needs some means of attaching it to the wall or ceiling, although you can also buy netting with a stand.
  • Pure cotton netting is available from department and fabric stores for do-it-yourselfers.

Baby monitors

Baby monitors can give you some peace of mind, especially if you’re a first-time parent and a little unsure about what to expect. However, for many parents it’s likely you’ll never need to use it at all.

Baby monitors operate on public transmission frequencies, so third parties who have an appropriate receiver (such as a two-way radio, walkie-talkie, CB (citizens’ band) unit or baby monitor) could listen in to conversations you have near the baby monitor.

What to look for

On the baby unit:
  • Mains operation, and battery operation if you want to use it in areas without mains power, such as, out camping.
  • A night light, if you intend to use one anyway.
On the parent unit:
  • Mains and battery operation, so you can take the unit with you in and around the house.
  • A belt clip.
  • Volume control.
  • A light display to indicate the sound level, if you want to see the noise your child makes rather than hear it—while you’re watching TV or vacuuming, for example, or if you or your babysitter has problems with hearing.
On both units:
  • At least two different frequencies to choose from (in case of interference.
  • Power-on light.
  • Battery condition indicator.
  • Automatic battery back-up is useful in areas where power failures are common.
  • A cord long enough for your set-up.

Bunk beds

If space is a problem, and you’re looking ahead to a time when the children may share a room, you may consider buying a bunk bed.

There’s a wide range on the market varying in size, style and features, some of which could seriously compromise a child’s safety. A trundle bed (a single bed with an additional mattress and base that slide away underneath) is a much safer option.

It’s almost accepted that kids will fall out of bunk beds. However, such a fall can cause serious injuries. Each year about 4000 Australian children need medical care because of injuries related to bunk beds. Because children under nine have a particularly high rate of injury with bunk beds, Kidsafe advice (from the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia) is to use the bottom bunk for young children, if you have to use a bunk bed. After the age of 12, the casualty rate declines.

The Australian Standard for bunk beds (AS/NZS 4220) is now mandatory, so in theory all bunk beds on the market should meet the Standard. However this is no guarantee.

What to look for

  • A bunk bed should be stable and strongly made. A good ‘on-the-spot’ test is to place one foot against the foot of the bunk and pull it toward you. You shouldn’t be able to raise the bed posts off the ground even if you’re a reasonably strong person.
  • Buy the lowest bunk available. The lower the bunk, the less risk of injury. The recommended maximum height is 1550mm to the top of the upper mattress. Even 150mm might mean the difference between bruises and a broken arm.
  • The design shouldn’t have any hanging points—places where cords and clothing can get snagged—and there should be no holes or gaps that can trap heads, legs and arms.
  • There must be a guardrail at least 160mm above the mattress all the way around the top bed. It can have gaps, but they should be no wider than 400mm. The guardrail should be high enough to prevent a child rolling out of bed, even if they are sleeping on a thick mattress. There should also be several vertical rails to make sure a child can’t inadvertently roll under the safety rail during the night.
  • Unless it’s bolted to a wall, it must have a guardrail on the wall side, too, to prevent a child slipping down the gap and getting their head caught.
  • Check the release mechanism of the guardrails. A child shouldn’t be able to release them accidentally.
  • A mattress height indicator on the top bunk will help you select the correct mattress for that bed. A mattress that’s too thick will reduce the effectiveness of the safety rail.
  • The ladder should be permanently fixed to the bunk. It should be easy to use by children, even when getting out of bed sleepily in the dark. Look for rungs that are at least 30cm wide and spaced evenly and appropriately. The sides should be narrow enough for a child’s hands to grip. The angle of the ladder should ideally be between 65° and 90° to the floor; an absolutely vertical ladder (90°) is more difficult to climb than one with a slope. Make sure there’s plenty of foot room between the rungs and the mattress. A ladder that exits on to the mattress and has high handles is easier to climb and therefore safer than any other.
  • To reduce the risk of accidental entrapment or strangulation (if a child were to slip, for example), no accessible gap (600mm or more above the floor) should be between 75 mm and 230mm (to prevent head entrapment), or 30mm and 50mm (to prevent limb entrapment); no accessible gap at any height should be between 5mm and 12mm to prevent finger entrapment.

Play is enormously important to a child’s development. As well as entertaining and stimulating the child, it also meets a range of needs—physical, intellectual and emotional—while promoting development in these areas.

  • Kids’ Games, by Elaine Clow, provides a guide to child’s play from ages three to six.

Books

  • Your greatest allies in discovering the best books are children’s librarians and booksellers.
  • Many libraries and bookshops have book readings and storytelling especially for children.
  • Magpies, an Australian magazine about children’s books is published five times a year and is packed with reviews of new books, interviews with authors and illustrators, and articles on how children learn to read. Website: www.magpies.net.au.
  • Another useful source is the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Website: www.cbc.org.au.
  • Copeland Publishing’s free, monthly city-based publications (Sydney’s Child, Melbourne’s Child, Adelaide’s Child, Brisbane’s Child, Canberra’s Child and Perth’s Child) have book reviews for new books, as well as music, DVDs and movie reviews. Pick them up at chemists, child care centres, baby care shops and leisure centres.

Music and movement

  • Encouraging an early interest in and appreciation of the performing and creative arts gives children an enriched environment for the development of their imaginations.
  • Exposure to music can start as soon as you choose. If listening to and playing music are a part of the parents’ life the baby will be accustomed to hearing it right from the start.
  • Rhythm, melody, rhyme and repetition are the key ingredients to instilling a musical ear in the child.
  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation shops are recommended as a source of children’s music recordings, as well as being a good place for books and CDs. Website: www.abc.net.au.

Toys

  • An expensive toy isn’t necessarily a good one, and having lots and lots of toys can simply be confusing for the child. Selective, careful buying is the answer, together with improvisation.
  • Make toys from items around the house—even unbreakable and safe things such as pot lids and plastic containers can provide hours of entertainment for curious youngsters.
  • Make the most of your local library.
  • Watch out for old toys in secondhand stores and at garage sales. Give them a thorough check for loose or broken parts, then a wash.

Toy safety

Hundreds of children require medical attention each year because of accidental injuries from unsafe toys, playing habits and play environments.

What to look for

In the shop
  • All toys suitable for children aged up to 36 months – including toys that aren’t marked as such – are required to meet the mandatory standard AS/NZS ISO 8124.1:2002. They must not be small, must not contain any small parts that may be a choking hazard, nor produce any small parts when subjected to various tests designed to simulate normal use and abuse. AS/NZS ISO 8124.3:2003 is also mandatory. Certain toys must not contain lead and seven other toxic elements.
  • Toys labelled “not appropriate for children under three years” or “For ages 3+” are unsafe for children any younger than that. It’s a safety warning, not an indication of skill level or intelligence.
  • As a general guide, if a toy or its parts can fit wholly into a 35mm camera film canister, or if a loose ball is smaller than 44.5 mm in diameter, it can choke a child under three.
  • Babies’ toys should be washable and non-breakable.
  • Rattles, squeeze toys and teethers should have no small ends that could extend into the baby’s mouth (accidents occur when babies partially swallow the rattle while sucking on it or if they fall with the rattle in their mouth).
  • There should be no small parts that could be chewed or pulled or twisted off (such as eyes, buttons or wheels), no sharp edges, sharp points, rough surfaces or pinching hazards. And if a sharp edge or point is essential to the function of the toy—for a toy sewing machine or scissors, for example—make sure you show your child how to use it safely and always supervise them while they use it.
  • Try to imagine how the toy may be abused, and whether it could become dangerous if used in a way not intended by the manufacturer. Children may stick their heads, arms or fingers into apparently unlikely gaps, or poke small items into their noses, ears or mouths.
  • Toys that make loud noises—particularly toys that are held against the ear, such as walkie-talkies and toy mobile phones—could be harmful to hearing.
  • Toy chests and boxes should be designed not to trap or close on top of children. They must have lid-support mechanisms to prevent sudden collapse or dropping of the lid. Better still, they should have a lightweight, removable lid. Make sure the lid is fitted with rubber or other stoppers that allow a gap of 12mm or more when the lid is closed. This will ensure small fingers can’t be crushed and assist with ventilation (of particular concern should a child be unable to climb out of a chest or box).
  • Check for ventilation before buying tents, masks or helmets.
  • Ride-on toys should be stable and appropriate to the age of the child; toy bikes should have effective brakes.
  • A toy that shoots projectiles should only have a soft, one-piece dart or non-removable suction caps, and the firing mechanism should not be able to discharge any other objects like stones or nails. Projectiles must not fit wholly into a 35-mm camera film canister (this requirement applies to all ages not just to under 36 months).
  • Swimming aids or flotation toys should be marked to comply with AS 1900. Adult supervision is essential with these toys.
Toys at home
  • Before you give a toy to a young child, remove the packaging and plastic coverings. If you intend to give the box to the child to play with, check it for staples, pins and tie wires.
  • Be alert for harmful ingredients—watch for dyes and paints that rub off, particularly with toys that can be easily chewed.
  • Keep older siblings’ toys away from babies, who may not realise potential dangers, and encourage older children to do the same.
  • Store damaged toys securely out of reach until they can be repaired, or throw them away.
  • Never leave dead batteries in toys because they may leak poisons or liquid that may burn skin. The battery compartment must not be easy to open, e.g. needs a tool to open.
  • Be vigilant: buy only safe toys and supervise your child so they use them safely.

For more information check with your state or territory’s consumer affairs and fair trading agency, or get the free Safe Toys for Kids Guide from the ACCC

Playpens

It comes as quite a shock to parents when their formerly immobile baby becomes a fearless little explorer. So a playpen can bring some peace of mind.

There is no current mandatory or voluntary Australian standard for playpens, some models currently on the market may pose potential safety risks to your child such as sharp edges or protrusions to bump themselves on and the possibility of trapping body parts between gaps.

What to buy

CHOICE tested Playpens in August 2008. Of the eight playpens tested only one model, the Plebani Recinto, passed with flying colours and it’s the only model we recommend without reservations. Two other models are worth considering.

Recommended

PLEBANI Recinto ART 044

Plebani Recinto ART 044 Price $149
Good points

  • Passed all our safety tests.
  • Can be pulled apart and stacked for moving or storage.
  • Reasonably easy to assemble and pull apart.
  • Fairly easy to move as it keeps its form well.
  • Easy to place and remove child.
  • Has a mattress.

Bad points

  • Relatively heavy.
Worth considering (failed minor safety requirements)

Lindam Safe & Secure LD124

Lindam Safe & Secure LD124 Price $250
Good points

  • Can be set up in other configurations.
  • Foldable for moving or storage.
  • Has a mattress.
  • Latched gate, which means you don’t have to reach over the high sides to access the child.
  • Easy to use.

Bad points

  • Failed minor safety tests — hinges protrude and minor chance of limb entrapment.
  • Requires some effort to unfold and fold — a tool is required.
  • Not easy to move as it’s heavy and doesn’t keep its form well.
  • Has no designated handle when folded.
  • Extra care must be taken to avoid the finger pinch points when folding.
  • Relatively heavy.

According to the manufacturer this playpen is tested to the European standard for playpens.

Baby Dan BabyDen / Park’A’Kid

Baby Dan babyDen/Park A Kid Price $300
Good points

  • Can be set up in other configurations.
  • Foldable for moving or storage.
  • Latched gate, which means you don’t have to reach over the high sides to access the child.

Bad points

  • Failed minor safety tests — hinges protrude and minor chance of limb entrapment.
  • Requires a lot of effort to unfold and fold.
  • Not easy to move because it’s heavy and doesn’t keep its form well.
  • No designated handle when folded.
  • Extra care must be taken to avoid the finger pinch points when unfolding and folding.
  • Relatively heavy.

What to look for

Check that the playpen has:
  • Adequate depth (more than 500mm high) to prevent a child escaping or falling.
  • Adequate stability and strength: it should be strong and sturdy and resistant to tipping and lifting from your baby leaning on the sides.
Check that it doesn’t have:
  • Small objects that can be swallowed or inhaled.
  • Sharp corners, edges and points that can injure a child.
  • Projections that can injure a child when it bumps into them.
  • Projections and openings that can cause entanglement with a child's clothing — this can be a strangulation hazard.
  • Gaps and openings that can cause entrapment of a child's finger, limbs or head. Spaces between the side bars should be between 50mm and 95mm. Larger gaps can trap the child’s head. It’s also acceptable for spaces to be between 12mm and 30mm.
  • Moving or rotating components that can injure a child when a part of the child's body gets in them.
  • Footholds, such as projections, openings or ledges that could enable children to climb out of the enclosure or cause them to fall from a height if they try to climb out.

Features

  • Multiple configurations. Some of the playpens could be set up in other configurations, which could be useful for sectioning off “out of bounds” areas such as fireplaces.
  • Gate. A gate is useful as it means that you don’t have to lift your child up over the sides. Make sure that it resists being opened by the child but is safe and convenient for you to operate.

Safety precautions

  • Don’t place objects against or inside the playpen that may help them climb over the side.
  • Keep it away from hazards, such as heaters, stoves, power points and dangling cords from blinds and curtains.
  • Ensure all latches are securely locked before use.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a playpen.
  • To minimise any risk of suffocation, avoid soft bedding in the playpen and use only one floor pad.

Babywalkers

Basically a frame on wheels, a baby walker is a piece of play equipment designed to support a baby who is not yet able to walk.

Because babies in walkers are much more mobile they can readily get themselves into dangerous situations, which can lead to serious injury.

In 2004, at the Children’s Hospital Emergency Department in Westmead, Sydney, 12% of injuries involving nursery furniture were due to baby walkers. Most injuries associated with babywalkers are caused by falls down steps, scalds, burns and poisoning from household chemicals.

CHOICE strongly discourages the sale and use of babywalkers. There’s no evidence that they help children to start walking sooner; in fact, they may even delay a child’s first steps. All babywalkers sold in Australia must pass a product safety standard (based on a US safety standard, ASTM F977-00). If you feel you must use one, look for a model that complies with the standard.

Here's what to consider if you still want to use a babywalker:

  • Consider other products without wheels such as playpens, bouncers, rockers, playmats and playtables, that can entertain your baby.
  • Babywalker-proof your home - block off stairways and put barriers around stoves, heaters and fires.
  • Always supervise your child in the babywalker.
  • Look for a babywalker that has a 900mm wide base (which shouldn’t fit through a standard doorway) and/or a brake mechanism to prevent them from being ridden over the edge of steps.
  • Ensure all metal parts are smooth and free of sharp edges.
  • Check that any locking mechanisms work and are out of baby's reach.
  • Remove any objects that may cause the baby walker to tip over.
  • Keep items such as kettles, irons and hot drinks out of the way.
  • Don't use babywalkers on surfaces where there is a change in floor level. Most accidents happen on steps or stairs.
  • Don't use babywalkers if your child can't sit up without assistance.
  • Don't use babywalkers if your child can walk unaided.

Jumpers

Baby jumpers, often known as jolly jumpers, support a baby who is not yet able to stand in a seat which is hung from a door frame or tripod. Babies’ feet can then touch the floor allowing them to bounce up and down. CHOICE discourages the use of jumpers.

  • The door clamps can break, causing a baby to fall and older children can cause harm by pushing the baby into the doorway.
  • If the baby bounces or swing sideways, they could lose their balance and knock their head against the doorframe. So use only in a wide-framed doorway.
  • Don’t overestimate the benefits of a jumper to your baby’s natural development; about 10 or 15 minutes is plenty of time for a bouncing session (if the baby enjoys it). And never leave a baby alone in a jumper or bouncer.

06.Highchairs and other seating

 

Highchairs

A highchair can come in very handy at mealtimes when a baby can sit up independently. It should be stable, sturdily built and have no gaps or crevices that might trap little arms or fingers. Our tests have been based on the international standard for highchairs (ISO 9921-1) but we will use the new Australian standard in future (it’s very similar).

What to buy

In the February 2009 CHOICE test of highchairs we recommended the following models.

Childcare Stella

Childcare Stella Price $180
Good points

  • Passed all our safety tests
  • Height-adjustable and reclinable seat.
  • Easy to move around with four castor wheels.

Bad points

  • Nothing to mention.

Inglesina Zuma

Inglesina Zuma Price $429
Good points

  • Passed all our safety tests
  • Height-adjustable and reclinable seat.
  • No initial assembly required.

Bad points

  • Folding requires use of both hands and a foot.

Love N Care Futura

Love N Care Futura Price $69
Good points

  • Passed all our safety tests
  • Light and easy to move.

Bad points

  • A person folding it could get their fingers caught in rotating or closing parts.

What to look for

High chair essentials
  • Five-point harness (with shoulders, waist and crotch straps). This helps prevent a child from falling or climbing from the seat. Shoulder straps that attach to the seat at shoulder height provide more effective restraint than ones that attach to the back of the waist strap. The crotch strap should be anchored close enough to the back that the child can’t slip through one side. The buckles should be easy for you, but not your child, to release.
  • Construction This should be sturdy and robust enough to carry the weight of a child. Push on the seat and backrest to see if they squeak, sag, deform, move out of position or collapse.
  • Stability Look for legs that spread outwards farther than all other parts of the chair.
  • Moving parts shouldn’t be able to pinch, crush or trap a child’s finger, toe, limb or head (or the fingers of an adult folding or adjusting the chair). Also check for sharp edges and points along the edges of the chair and tray, and easily detachable parts (including stickers) that could pose a choking hazard.
  • Castor wheels Useful for moving the chair around. They should have brakes that lock in position on at least two of them (the front or back set). If the chair doesn’t have castors, check that it’s light enough to move easily without them.
Comfort and ease of use
  • Large seat Useful if you plan to use the chair for some years as it will accommodate a toddler.
  • Reclining back or seat Good for younger babies who can’t sit upright for long.
  • Tray This should be secure when fitted but easy to remove, attach and adjust.
  • Height-adjustment and back-reclining These should be easy for you, but not your child, to operate. The mechanism should be out of the child’s reach and require some strength or dexterity to use.
  • Foldable and handy for storage. The chair should be easy to fold and unfold, and preferably lock in its folded position.
  • Lightweight If you're going to be regularly getting the chair out and storing it away again, make sure it's not too heavy.
  • Footrest or leg support This is important to support the child’s feet or calves. Adjustable footrests are useful as the child grows. All models on test have a footrest.

Junior chairs

  • When your child has grown up a little and no longer needs a harness to sit safely, you could consider a tall junior chair as a replacement for the old high chair.
  • Such chairs are simply elevated child-sized seats intended to allow the youngster to sit at the dinner table with the family.
  • They usually have a footrest so the child can sit comfortably without his or her legs dangling.
  • The high chair standard does not technically apply to chairs like these, but nevertheless we put one model – the IKEA Gasell ($69) – to the test to see how it performs. It fails the sideways and rearward stability tests, so a child in this chair who pushes away from the table could risk toppling. While we wouldn’t say the IKEA is unsafe, a high chair that passes the stability test and which has a roomy seat and removable tray could be a better option for an older child to sit at the dinner table.

Children’s folding chairs

A folding chair specifically designed for a child could do more harm than good. Many children—some as young as one year old—have injured their fingers badly on such chairs, breaking or crushing bones. Some have even had finger(s) amputated.

Safety concerns

  • When folded or collapsed, many still leave small spaces (of less than 5mm) where a child’s finger can get trapped, pinched or squeezed.
  • At present, only South Australia has a mandatory standard that sets safety requirements, including the minimum 5mm trapping space and NSW Fair Trading Act 1987 has a Prohibition Order on unsafe folding chairs. Even there, too many children are injured because unsafe chairs can be imported or manufactured in other states where the mandatory standard does not apply
  • CHOICE thinks all Australian states and territories (and New Zealand) should adopt a mandatory safety standard for children’s folding chairs.

What to look for

  • It’s best to buy a small, moulded plastic chair. These are commonly available from variety stores and even supermarkets.
  • If you do have a child’s folding chair, check the trapping spaces when you fold it up, and supervise your child when using it.
  • Don’t let adults use your child’s chair – they’re designed for the weight of children, rather than adults.

Bouncers and rocking infant chairs

A little rocking or bouncing chair can be useful during the first few months, so you can keep your baby close to the action. They come in a variety of styles.

Using a bouncer safely

  • Never place a bouncer or rocking chair anywhere but on the floor. Even a slight bouncing motion could be enough to propel the chair plus baby over the edge of a table, and if the baby decides to try turning over for the first time while in the chair it’s not too far to fall to the floor.
  • Always use a safety harness (which should comprise a lap belt and crotch strap).
  • Never leave your baby alone in a bouncer.

What to look for

  • The base or rear support should be wider than the seat.
  • The base should have rubber tips or other non-skid surfaces which would minimise movement on smooth floors.
  • The safety belt should be strong, properly attached to the frame of the chair, easy to operate and adjustable to fit your baby.
  • Try to assess the chair’s stability with your baby in it. If the seat is held up by a tiltback handle, press down on it to check that the locking mechanism holds securely.
  • Fabric covers should be removable for cleaning.
  • If the seat has handles for carrying while the baby is installed, check they are correctly positioned for balance; don’t carry a baby in a seat without handles.
  • If you buy a self-assembly model make sure all joints are fully engaged and the fabric cover doesn’t present any entrapment hazards such as open flaps.