The last thing you need when comforting a crying baby is to be bending awkwardly over a cot that is too low or too high, or takes up too much space in the room – particularly if you've spent a lot of money on it. And of course, you want Junior to be as safe as can be in the cot, whether they're sleeping or (more often, it seems) not.
Things to know before you shop
Before you charge off to the shops, think about how long you plan to use it. Are there plans for a second child? Do you want to buy a convertible cot that changes into a small bed, or will baby go straight to a grown-up bed after the cot?
Also consider the size of the room it has to fit into – you want enough space for other things, like a change table or a seat for feeding.
What to look for in the shop
Aesthetics aside, there are some basic features you should check right at the beginning of your search for the perfect cot.
Check for any sharp edges or anything sticking out or pointing up that could hit a child's head or snag on their clothing. All components of the cot should be permanently fixed or require the use of a tool to take apart. There shouldn’t be any footholds in the cot that Junior could use as a ledge for climbing out.
Ease of use
This is really important – any seemingly small annoyance can be magnified into a major headache for a sleep-deprived parent! The dropside (the side of the cot that moves up and down) should be secure and smooth to operate and not too heavy for you. It should be low enough for you to bend comfortably over into the cot or your back might suffer.
It should be impossible for a child to open, but easy for an adult to operate – can you open it with one hand? Make sure the side is at least 5cm off the floor when lowered or feet will bang against the side or be crushed when it comes down.
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 (and it probably will be!).
Wheels make the cot easier to move around, but there should be lockable brakes on at least two wheels.
Look also for claims of sustainable manufacture, such as use of plantation timber.
Cots should be certified under the mandatory Australian safety standard, but CHOICE has found cots being sold that don't comply. So take a tape measure with you to ensure it meets the safety guidelines.
Is the cot 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 50cm when the base is set in the lowest position. The depth should be 30cm when it's in the upper position. The depth should also be at least 15cm when the dropside is down.
Does the mattress fit snugly around all sides?
When you choose a mattress, make sure there is no more than a 4cm 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.
Are there any head entrapment hazards?
Any large space or opening must be between 5cm and 9.5cm to stop your baby from either getting caught or falling out.
Can you see any limb or finger entrapment hazards?
Smaller openings should not be between 3cm and 5cm wide. Any space or opening should not be between 5mm and 12mm wide, so little fingers don't get caught.
Making this change from cot to bed at the right time will help to prevent injuries associated with the child falling out of the cot. Kids are ready to move onto a bed when they can stand confidently in a cot, shake the sides of the cot and start to attempt to climb out.
A cot that allows you to take the sides off and convert it into a small bed will give you more use over time. Some need the addition of bed rails at the sides for strength, which is fine as long as the mattress is firm and fits snugly against the rails and bed ends so there are no gaps (which are suffocation hazards).
Second-hand and heirloom cots
It's certainly a money saver, and from an environmental point of view, it's good to reuse an old cot rather than buy a new one. However, it might not be the safest option. In Australia, cots have been subject to a mandatory standard only since 1998, and our tests show that not every cot sold since then meets the standard. So before accepting a used cot, there are several questions you should consider.
Check that all parts are in working order, in particular whether the catches are too easy to undo by a child. Make sure it meets modern safety standards (see Safety Checks above) and whether there are instructions for assembly and safe use.
Always buy a new, correctly-fitting mattress for it; the old mattress may create a SIDS or breathability risk if it's too soft, or it could just be dirty!
If it was made or repainted before 1970, a cot might be painted with lead paint, which children can chew on and swallow when they're teething. If in doubt, strip the cot completely and repaint it. The standard for new cots requires that any paint used is safe.