Buying Guide – Shopping for the Best Travel Crib
Keep the following in mind when searching for a travel crib, and you’re sure to find one that’s the perfect fit.
As is the case with any product for babies or children, safety is of the utmost concern. Just like regular cribs, travel cribs are regulated by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as “play yards.” Among other requirements, the CPSC specifies that top rails must lack properly to prevent folding, that the mattress cannot be moved by the child and that the materials used are strong.
To ensure your travel crib is up to snuff, you’ll probably want to buy new. And be sure to use your travel crib as intended. Only use the mattress that comes with the crib, and don’t cover it with extra padding, especially if your child is under 12 months. Read the instructions and check to see the crib is assembled correctly each time to ensure your child sleeps soundly and safely.
Quality of Materials
Considering you’ll break down and reassemble your travel crib multiple times during its life, you want it to be made to last. Quality of materials can be largely gauged by sight and touch. If the crib wobbles when you press the sides, it’s likely not very sturdy. Look for a crib with a strong frame and fabric or mesh sides that pull tight.
It’s also important to pay attention to what’s in the materials used in your travel crib. Flame retardants and other chemicals can be harmful. Look for cribs that meet standards for healthy materials, like OEKO-TEX or GREENGUARD, or otherwise specify that they do not use flame retardants, PVCs, lead, phthalates, formaldehyde or other harmful substances.
Most parents quickly realize that babies come with a lot of stuff. If you’re traveling with your baby or toddler, you won’t want to carry a bulky, heavy crib along with everything else. Aim for a travel crib that folds up small and can be carried easily. Some cribs even come with backpack carriers. You’ll also want to think about how much space the crib takes up when folded. Some travel cribs fold up small enough to be placed in the overhead bin on an airplane. Finally, you’ll want something lightweight. Look for something under 20 pounds, if not lighter.
Ease of Assembly
When you’ve made it to your destination after a long day of travel, the last thing you want is a complicated crib assembly (especially if you have a cranky baby on your hands). Most travel cribs require some unfolding of legs and snapping rails into place. Some involve just a couple of steps while others need full assembly, similar to pitching a tent. Think about how you travel and how much time you want to spend assembling your crib. A long setup might not be a big deal for a week at one destination, but becomes a problem if you’re traveling to a new spot every day or two.
Most travel cribs range from $100 to $300 in price, though there’s some variability. Think about your travel habits to decide what makes sense for your budget. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but higher priced travel cribs tend to be made of higher quality materials and thus will last longer. The lightest travel cribs also tend to be on the pricier end of the scale. If you travel frequently, you might want to look into a higher-quality crib. The longevity and portability will probably be worth the investment.
While some travel cribs are just that—a crib—others come with additional features that you might want to consider. Many parents prefer a travel crib with a bassinet option for newborns to make it easier to set down and pick up their baby. Bassinets are either attached toward the top of the travel crib, or there is an option to convert the crib into a bassinet.
Travel cribs are often used for more than just sleep. If your travel crib will double as a play yard, you might consider one with a zippered side for easy access. A canopy can also be helpful if you plan to use your travel crib outside for either sleeping or playing. Some travel cribs even come with accessories like portable changing mats. Keep in mind that each additional feature adds weight.
Most travel cribs follow the same basic design, but there are differences that impact usability. Some are shaped like a box, while others are narrower at the top. Some parents find that a narrow top does a better job of keeping climbing toddlers in the crib, while others think it makes it more difficult to lean in and place a sleeping baby. Mattresses on some cribs are directly on the floor, and others are supported by a beam that elevates them a few inches. Consider where you’ll be using the crib. If it’s in a cold area, you might want the mattress off the floor. Mattresses that are elevated, however, also come with a weight limit, while mattresses on the floor do not.
Why Do I Need a Travel Crib
Even for those who don’t travel frequently, travel cribs provide a multitude of uses. Consider purchasing a travel crib for any of the following reasons:
- Travel: The most obvious reason to have a travel crib is to ensure your child has a place to sleep when you’re out of town. While many routines go out the window during vacation, the safest place for your baby to sleep is still in her own crib, not sharing your bed. Having your little one’s bed with you wherever you go makes this decision easier. Some hotels do offer cribs, but with your own travel crib, you can rest assured your baby is in a familiar, clean and safe sleep environment.
- Childcare: If your child sleeps anywhere away from home, a travel crib might be necessary. While most daycares provide some sort of crib, at-home daycares or nannies might need you to provide one. A travel crib is a great option because it can either be folded up and kept at the childcare location or easily transported back and forth.
- Family visits: You may opt to purchase a travel crib for your child’s grandparents or other close relatives if you visit them frequently. In-town family may also want to have a travel crib for any overnight babysitting. Travel cribs tend to be more convenient for infrequent uses like these because they can be folded and stored when they’re not needed. You may also want to have an extra travel crib in your home if you frequently have visits from family or friends who have little ones.
- Room-sharing: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that your baby should sleep in your room or his crib for his first six months, if not a full year. In addition to being the safest option, this form of co-sleeping also helps you bond with your baby and easily attend to his needs. Some parents can’t fit a full-sized crib in their room, so a travel crib offers a more compact option.
- Play yard: Travel cribs can perform double-duty by also functioning as a safe place for your baby to play. If you need your hands free to make dinner or make a phone call, you can place your baby in your travel crib as long as it’s in the same room you’re in. Your baby can play without you worrying about her crawling away or getting into anything while you’re tied up. Just be sure to only use your travel crib this way for limited amounts of time and give your child ample time to move and explore without constraints.
Travel Crib Safety
As is the case with regular cribs, it’s important to follow safety guidelines for your travel crib. Keep the following in mind to ensure your child’s safety:
- Keep crib empty: Especially if your travel crib doubles as a play yard, it’s important to remove all toys and other objects before your baby goes to sleep. The only items in your travel crib should be the mattress it came with and a fitted sheet. Opt for wearable blankets instead of loose ones.
- Back is best: Always place your baby on his back to sleep. Children who are placed on their stomachs to sleep have a higher risk for SIDS or suffocation as their airways might become blocked.
- Use as intended: Sometimes travel crib mattresses seem thin so parents or other caregivers try to pad them with extra blankets. Not only is this unsafe, but it’s also not necessary. Babies are light and sleep perfectly fine on thin, firm surfaces that might not seem comfortable to us. Be sure to also use a sheet that fits snugly over the mattress.
- Mind weight limits: Some travel cribs have weight limits if any portion of their construction is raised off the floor, like a bassinet insert. Be sure to follow weight limit guidelines and stop using once your child is too heavy.