Babies sleep a lot, and it's not always convenient for them to do it at home in their cot. While they might have a quick sleep in their pram when you're out during the day, what about when you visit friends or family overnight, or take a trip away? Then you'll need somewhere comfortable and safe for them to sleep – which is where portable cots come in.
What's the difference between a portacot and a regular cot?
Portacots are specifically designed to be used for a baby when a regular cot isn't available. They're made of four fabric or mesh sides, with a removable mattress, and fold up for transportation.
Can I use a portacot all the time?
No. While a portacot is handy when you're travelling or away from home, a standard cot is a much better bet for every day.
- They're more durable than portable cots and can 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 years old.
- They're higher off the ground than a portable cot, so you don't have to bend so far to pick up the baby. After lugging a heavy baby in and out of a low-lying portacot your back will thank you when you return to your standard cot!
What are small travel cots?
A small folding shelter travel cot with a mattress.
Small travel cots are very lightweight, easy to fold and compact for transport. Some are similar in style to most other portable cots but are lighter and more compact (they should weigh no more than 6kg). Others are small folding shelters with a mattress. They can be very handy when you're travelling, going camping or on a picnic, but aren't recommended for use all of the time. When we've tested small travel cots in the past, we didn't find any we could fully recommend as each failed at least one important test of the standard.
What to look for
We don't currently recommend any of the portable cots we've tested. This is because all the available models we've tested have safety failures that could result in injury or even endanger a child's life.
However, this doesn't mean that all portable cots are equally dangerous. Those that carry a risk of suffocating or trapping the head of the child are considered especially dangerous and should be avoided. Others carry a risk of injury but not death, such as limb entrapment and could be considered if you're planning on buying a portable cot. Look for models that score 60% or over, as these carry only minor safety risks that don't endanger the life of the child. It's important to read each safety failure carefully, as some risks can be avoided or minimised when special precautions are taken. For example, some portable cots carry safety risks when used in bassinet mode, but in cot mode they're safe. You can find a full description of the risks of each portable cot in the Bad Points section of our portable cots review.
Here are some general things to look out for when buying a portable cot:
Each side should be mostly made from a breathable mesh material that extends all the way to the floor of the cot.
Don't use a portable cot if your child weighs more than 15kg.
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.
The mattress should be firm enough and fit snugly without gaps on any side and should not be easily moved or lifted out of place by the child.
The rails should have two locking mechanisms to prevent accidental collapse and closure. The cot floor shouldn't sag. Press down on the base to check this. If you're using a portable cot that doesn't have a sturdy, rigid base, make sure you always use it on a flat floor and not an uneven surface that could distort the mattress shape.
Check that the portable cot you buy is certified to the Australian/New Zealand Standard, AS/NZS 2195 – either the 1999 or, preferably, the 2010 version.
Easy to put up and take down
The easier it is to put up and down, the better. You don't want to be struggling when you're sleep-deprived and have a tired, crying baby on your hands.
Not too heavy
Despite "porta" being in the name, many portacots are still quite heavy, with some clocking in at over 14kg. Make sure you're able to lift and carry it comfortably.
Check what size it is when it's packed down. You'll want to store it away until your next adventure, so choose one that'll fit the bill (or, more to the point, your cupboard).
My portable cot says it meets Australian standards. Is it safe?
Portable cots sold in Australia must meet a mandatory standard based on sections of the Australian/New Zealand standard AS/NZS 2195: 1999. The standard includes requirements for ensuring the folding mechanism is secure, that there are no gaps that could trap a child's head, that the mattress is safe and the cot has adequate safety warnings. We still commonly find cots that fail some of the mandatory safety criteria.
A more recent 2010 version of the standard includes an important test that looks for adequate breathable zones (in case the baby manages to roll face-first against the edge). The older standard doesn't include this crucial consideration. CHOICE tests against the safer 2010 standard. This mainly involves checking that every wall of the cot is made from a mesh material that allows for air flow.
CHOICE would like to see portable cots comply with the full voluntary 2010 standard, which makes reference to breathability of materials. If your portable cot is not certified to the 2010 standard, it may not be made of breathable materials and could carry a risk of suffocation.
From $49 to over $400.