When you're about to welcome a baby into the world, life can become an array of bewildering shopping decisions – including where you are going to put that baby to sleep. While it's perfectly fine to put your baby straight into a cot, many parents prefer to have something smaller (and snugger) for their little one to bed down in the early months.
Cot or bassinet?
Bassinets are handy because they don't take up as much space as a cot, so you can fit them in your bedroom during those early (and tiring) months when you'll want your baby close by for feeding, especially as it's recommended that your baby sleeps in the same room as you for the first six to 12 months.
Some parents like to have a bassinet with wheels so that they can move around the house during those day sleeps and still keep baby close by. You can also find bassinets that are designed to clip onto the side of the parents' bed (called bedside sleepers), and others hang from a frame or within an actual cot and provide a gentle rocking motion.
How quickly will my baby outgrow the bassinet?
Babies grow fast, and will grow out of their bassinets as early as a couple of months old! As each bassinet comes with a different recommendation as to when to move on to a cot, it will also depend on how big your baby grows. As a rule bassinets shouldn't be used once your baby can roll over or pull themselves up (or over) the side – which is usually around four to six months of age.
What about bedside sleepers?
A bedside sleeper is a bassinet that attaches to the side of your adult bed, with one side that folds down to let you access your baby without the hassle of having to get up at night to feed or change them. They're designed to mimic the intimacy and convenience of co-sleeping, without the baby actually being in bed beside you (this can increase the risk of SIDS in certain circumstances, such as whether a parent is a smoker). Bedside sleepers come in different variations; some have a side that opens fully; others had a side that folds down partway, forming a little "gate" between the adult bed and bedside sleeper.
Make sure that the bedside sleeper you choose is suitable for the height and style of bed you will be using it on. Some additional parts may be available, such as height adjusters or extensions for framed beds.
What to look for in a bassinet or bedside sleeper
There is no Australian standard for bassinets, but some products claim compliance with the older standard for rocking cradles AS/NZS 4385:1996. Other standards to look out for include:
- the European standard EN 1130
- the US standard ASTM F2194
There is no bedside sleeper standard either. The US, however, has a recent bedside sleeper safety standard to look out for (ASTM F2906-13). This covers issues such as disengagement between the bedside sleeper and the adult bed. Bedside sleepers that double as a bassinet must also meet ASTM F2194 in order to meet the bedside sleeper standard.
All the parts in the bassinet should be permanently fixed, or be so difficult to move that it needs a lot of effort or a tool to take it apart.
The bassinet should be deep enough to stop your baby from falling out. The vertical distance between the top surface of the mattress and the upper edge of the bassinet enclosure should be no less than 250mm.
Mind the gap
Make sure that the mattress fits snugly around all sides. Check that there is no gap between the edge of the mattress and the side of the bassinet, as gaps at the sides are a suffocation risk. Check the mattress is firm; and don't put any other kind of mattress in the bassinet other than the one it came with.
...and mind the traps
Make sure there are no areas where your baby could trap their limbs, head or fingers. Check that there's nothing pointy or sticking out that could hit your baby's head or snag on their clothing.
There shouldn't be anything in the bassinet that could be used by your child as a ledge for climbing out. While this isn't a major issue for most babies under 4-6 months, some get on the move early. And you don't want to find out the hard way, in the middle of the night.
Wheels and brakes
Castor wheels make the bassinet easier to move around, but there should be lockable brakes on at least two of the wheels.
Young babies are notoriously leaky, from both ends! So look for a bassinet that's easy to clean; preferably one with removable fabric.
We only recommend bassinets with adequate breathable zones on all four sides to eliminate suffocation risks and provide enough ventilation for your baby. There are no official international requirements for breathable zones in bassinets or bedside sleepers, so you will find many models that don't meet this specification.
For safe sleeping resources, tips and advice, see the Sids and Kids website.
Need help choosing a bassinet? See our bassinet reviews and tests.