How to buy the best cot for your baby
A guide to safety, ease of use and other features to help you pick the right one from the pack.
How to choose the best cot
When you're buying a cot for your new arrival you need to consider:
- Is the cot safe?
- Is it easy to assemble and use?
- Is it the right size for you and your home?
- Does it have the right features for you? (such as being convertible later on to a junior bed).
- Is it a good idea to buy second hand?
And last but not least, you'll want one that suits your style and budget.
Cots should be certified under the mandatory Australian safety standard AS/NZS 2172, 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 the mattress base is in the upper position. The depth should also be at least 15cm when the dropside is down.
There shouldn't be any footholds in the cot that your child could use to climb out.
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, or 2cm on each side when the mattress is centred. Gaps at the sides are a suffocation risk – your baby could roll face-first into them. And mattresses should be firm; a soft or saggy mattress can also be a suffocation hazard.
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 – which is wide enough for a child's limb to get stuck – or be between 5mm and 12mm wide, so little fingers don't get caught.
Are there any sharp edges or protruding parts?
Check for any sharp edges or anything sticking out or pointing up that could hit a child's head or snag on their clothing. Snagging clothing may not sound serious, but can be distressing for the child and in the worst cases can end in strangulation.
Ease of use
This is really important – any seemingly small annoyance can become 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.
Considering they are a bed for a small baby, some cots can be surprisingly big.
- Check the dimensions of the fully-assembled cot and how well it will fit into your nursery.
- Will it be too heavy to lift if need be?
- Will it fit through doorways if you need to move it to a different room?
- If the cot will be in your own bedroom for the first few months, space can be a serious issue.
- You might also want space for other things, like a change table or a seat for feeding.
Some cots take a long time to assemble and are fiddly with lots of parts; we note these in our cot review. While you may only need to assemble the cot once, it's still a consideration.
- For safety, all components of the cot should be permanently fixed or require the use of a tool to take apart.
Features to consider
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 for claims of sustainable manufacture, such as use of plantation or FSC-certified timber.
Making the 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
- make a serious effort at climbing 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).
Some cots can also be converted to a small lounge chair or desk, giving them even longer-term use.
Second-hand and heirloom cots
From an environmental point of view, it's good to reuse an old cot rather than buy a new one, and it can certainly save money. 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 even since then, not every cot 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 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. In any case, a cot that old is unlikely to meet current standards and may have other hazards such as unsafe gaps or strangulation hazards. You're better off with a more recent model.