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Cheap Cribs Buying Guide

These days the market is awash in convertible cribs, the type that morph into beds that suit children as they grow. You'll find 2-in-1 styles (crib to daybed or twin bed), 3-in-1 styles (crib to toddler bed to daybed, or crib to daybed to full-size bed), and 4-in-1 styles (crib to toddler bed to daybed to full-size bed).

Some models come with a toddler guard rail and some need special kits to convert to twin or full-size beds (one long side of the convertible crib becomes the headboard and with some models, the other long side serves as the footboard). The DaVinci Emily 4-in-1 Crib (starting at $180) wins accolades for its stability, good looks, and user-friendly assembly, qualities that far outweigh grumbles about susceptibility to scratching. A second best choice for a cheap 4-in-1 crib is the Graco Lauren Classic (starting at $135), which appeals for its price, ease of assembly, and style but has only three mattress-level settings and lacks a toddler guard rail. Cheap convertible cribs are also available in mini sizes and as portables.

Traditional, or standard, cribs -- i.e., first and always just cribs -- are increasingly scarce, so you'll have to look harder if that's the style you prefer. The Baby Relax My First Nursery Crib & Changing Table/Dresser Set (starting at $169) is the best cheap crib for families wanting a model that has no second life as an older-child bed. The crib comes bundled with a matching dresser, and parents are thrilled with the value.

Although it may be tempting to choose a cheap crib simply because it fits your budget -- some cost as little as $70 -- do your homework first. Infants spend more time sleeping than anything else, so you want to be sure the cheap crib is safe, durable, and right-sized for caregivers (can you put down and pick up the baby without straining your back?). Even if you plan to buy a cheap crib from an e-commerce site, check out displays at a brick-and-mortar store first. Consumer reviews posted online may discuss the virtues and flaws of cheap cribs, but actually inspecting the goods before ordering is the best way to assess factors like stability, mattress placement (how high or low can it go?), and likely resilience in the face of nursery wear and tear. Experts also suggest looking for exposed screws or other hardware that could cause injury, and cracks in the wood that may be an early indication of poor build quality.

Indeed, crib safety is the priority concern. A multitude of recalls have plagued the industry in recent years and in June, 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued more stringent standards for cribs at all price points. These new regulations are intended to better protect babies and small children from suffocation, entanglement, and injury. The most significant change involves drop-side cribs, the type that let you lower one side to move the baby in or out without having to bend or reach over the rails. The CPSC has now outlawed the sale and manufacture of drop-side cribs; more than 10 million have been recalled since 2007. The CPSC is also requiring stronger mattress supports and crib slats, more durable hardware, and more rigorous safety testing prior to sale. All of the cheap cribs we researched are fixed-side, also known as stationary or static-side cribs, and conform to the new standards.

Important note: Taking a pre-2011 hand-me-down crib from a friend or relative or finding one online is probably not a good idea. Aside from the potential hazards addressed by the latest CPSC regulations, older cribs present a variety of risk factors such as toxic lead paint and stripped screws that weaken the crib over time. With the new safety requirements now in place, the sale of used cribs, even at consignment stores, has been outlawed. We also caution against round or odd-shaped cribs, even if the price seems right, because you may have difficulty finding affordable sheets and mattress covers that fit properly. Altering bedding to fit the mattress is another potential safety issue: infants can suffocate in soft bedding that bunches up or comes loose.

So what's a thrifty shopper to do? Forget all those designer models with upscale names costing $1,000 or more and confine your hunt to the cheap cribs segment, which is dominated by brands such as Graco, DaVinci, Delta, and Dream on Me. Given the current emphasis on child safety, cribs are pretty much all alike but for small differences in design (silhouette, trim), color or finish, and wood type. The research we conducted indicates that parents generally consider the best cheap cribs are value buys that rival, at least in appearance, many higher-end models.

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