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When you bring home your baby from the hospital or birthing center, you’ll need somewhere safe to put them while they sleep. A bassinet is a good option—it’s smaller than a crib, so you can keep it right next to your bed, and depending on the model, you can move it from room to room. It has a downside, though: A bassinet has a shorter shelf life than a crib, and babies can remain in them only until they show signs of pushing up onto their hands and knees or until they meet the weight and height limits of the bassinet, whichever comes first.
You can rest assured that bassinets sold in the U.S. must conform to federally regulated standards that stipulate that bassinets and cradles have certain features for safety. Those include, among others, that the product is strong enough to hold the weight of the baby; stable enough to ensure that it won’t tip over, including in the case of a sibling holding on to the side; and for products that move, that the rocking or swinging angle doesn’t increase the likelihood of the baby becoming trapped in the side of the bassinet. Bassinets and cradles are also subject to requirements that paint and parts don’t contain more than certain amounts of certain chemicals, such as lead and phthalates.
Check our review of the best bassinets, which covers models from Halo, MamaRoo, Snoo, and other brands.
Bassinets and cradles are similar to cribs, but with a few key differences. As explained above, they’re smaller. They’re either on stationary legs—but can potentially swing back and forth atop the base—or the base can rock, like a rocking chair (technically, bassinets are stable and cradles rock, but brands nowadays tend to use the terms interchangeably). When not rocking, it should be flat or on a less-than-10-degree incline.
Simply by nature of their size, bassinets are usually easier to move than a full-sized crib. Some come with wheels to facilitate even greater portability, which may be useful if you intend to keep watch over your sleeping baby in more than one room in the house (although, of course, you could buy multiple bassinets or cribs and keep them scattered about your home). They sometimes feature very shallow inclines, but keep in mind that no infant sleep products can have inclines that exceed a 10 degrees (and inclines aren’t helpful at reducing infant reflux, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP).
You can also find bassinets with canopies or hoods, while some parents hang their own canopy over a bassinet, a bit like a mosquito net. Canopies that drape over the bassinet can be hazardous, though, because they can fall on the baby and strangle them. “Do not add an accessory to a sleep environment that is not specifically made and/or tested for safety with the item you intend to attach it to,” says Antoinette Burns, DO, MPH, an associate professor of clinical practice in the department of pediatrics-pulmonary medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.
A typical bassinet is often oval-shaped and is small enough to sit right beside the bed, so a parent can more easily access the baby during the night. It should have mesh or slatted sides that are lower than a crib—and thus possibly easier for parent who has had a recent cesarean section to less painfully reach into the bassinet and grab their baby—but still tall enough to guard against the baby rolling out of it.
These newfangled, electronic bassinets vibrate, rock, and make noise intended to soothe your baby. Some smart bassinets detect a baby’s fussing and respond with soothing motions and sounds, while others have soothing motions and sounds that must be turned on by a caregiver. Some smart bassinets even have lights intended to calm or delight the baby. These bassinets may be controlled via an app, buttons on the side of the device, or a smart home device like Amazon Alexa or Google Home.
Bedside bassinets, sometimes called “co-sleepers,” are designed to nestle right beside your mattress for optimal reachability. They typically attach to the bed itself, and sometimes the side closest to the adult bed can lower for even easier reaching. However, what’s known as an “in-bed co-sleeper” is different; this is somewhat like an infant lounger or a Moses basket (more on these below) that you actually place on the adult bed. Consumer Reports has found that in-bed sleepers have been linked to infant deaths. The AAP does not recommend sharing your bed with your baby because doing so may be associated with SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Some experts believe bedside sleepers can be great options for some parents. “There is no large-scale convincing data in regard to co-sleepers [bedside bassinets], but intuitively they seem safe providing proximity and at the same time a separate surface,” says Eliot Katz, MD, medical director and division chief of the Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I think that it makes nighttime breastfeeding easier, and I personally have been recommending co-sleepers for years.”
Stroller bassinets are designed for the first few months of a baby’s life, before they can safely sit upright in a traditional stroller seat. You can swap them out for a regular seat on the stroller once the baby’s a bit older; they can also be removed and placed on a frame for nighttime sleep.
“Strollers that come with bassinets must meet the safety standards for both strollers and bassinets,” Burns says. “A newer requirement for products with removable bassinets includes stability testing specifically for the bassinet once the bassinet is removed from the stroller.” If yours doesn’t meet safe sleep standards—for example, if it’s an old product, or you don’t know when it was made—the baby should be moved out of it as soon as possible if they fall asleep.
Cardboard bassinets are just that: bassinets made out of cardboard. They’re also sometimes called “baby boxes,” and their popularity emerged from Finland, where since 1938 new parents have received a free box of goodies that, once emptied, served as a presumably safe place for baby to sleep. Some people have linked Finland’s low SIDS rate to the use of these boxes, though other experts point out that neighboring countries have similarly low rates of SIDS without the free baby boxes.
“There are safety standards for the spacing of crib slats (no more than 2⅜ inches between slats) and mesh sides (securely attached, no tears, holes, or loose threads; mesh less than ¼ inch in size),” Burns says. “Currently, there is not enough research/data to advise for or against any infant sleep product that is not already included in the published safety standards. This includes any alternative sleep product, such as cardboard boxes, despite the popularity of alternative sleep products in some countries and cultures.”
Additionally, Red Nose Australia, an Australian infant and child safe sleep organization, recommends against cardboard bassinets because high humidity can affect the structural integrity of the product.
Moses baskets are small baskets, typically made of wicker, that can be carried, placed on the floor, or rest on a stand. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not have an official statement about Moses baskets, but Moses baskets offer a firm sleep surface for infants that would meet the AAP recommendations about safe sleep environments for infants,” says Mary Beth Howard, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
What you won’t want to do with a Moses basket? Carry it with your baby inside, or place the Moses basket full of baby on the edge of a counter or table.
In 2022 the Infant Sleep Product Rule from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) went into effect, requiring all products marketed or intended for infant sleep to meet federal safety standards. That means that if you buy a new product in the U.S. from an established retailer, it should have met federal safety standards. But there are still a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
First of all, the absolute basics: Baby should sleep flat on their back, in their own sleep space, with a firm, flat mattress and no blankets, bumpers, or toys. A crib or bassinet mattress should be firm enough that it doesn’t sink beneath your baby’s weight. The mattress should also fit snugly into the bassinet, since your baby can get trapped in any gaps between the mattress and the side of the bassinet. It shouldn’t be superthick, either—1½ inches, max.
If you can, buy a new bassinet, or ensure that all product features are in line with the current safety standards as established by the CPSC. You can also check to make sure that the product in question hasn’t been subject to a recall or warning. And just say no to grandma’s old bassinet that has been in the family for half a century. Safety standards have evolved over the years, and those years may have taken their toll on the product itself and weakened its structural integrity.
A crib mobile—or, in this case, a bassinet mobile—is adorable, but don’t let it hang too low, and move it once your baby can sit up on their own. Loose toys should remain out of your baby’s bassinet, but according to the AAP, toys that clasp securely to the bassinet’s edge are probably okay, though the organization says your baby isn’t likely to be too interested in them at first.
While bassinets are more portable than cribs, you still don’t want to move them around the house with the baby inside. “If you trip, the baby could be injured; they could fall out,” says Joan Muratore, who leads much of Consumer Reports’ baby product testing. “That’s not good with an infant when their skull isn’t fully fused. And suppose something failed or collapsed. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Finally, keep in mind: Bassinets are a short-term solution. You can use them for only a few months, and by that point, you’ll want a more appropriately sized sleep solution. Might we direct you, then, to our crib buying guide and the best cribs of the year?
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At SeeVay, we know that the safety and well-being of your baby is your top priority. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing you with the tools you need to make sure you’re always on top of your baby’s safety. We understand that being a new mom can be overwhelming, and there’s so much information out there that it can be hard to know where to start.