Cots - what to look for
cots; portable; mattresses; mattress; safety;
Many parents put their babies and young children into a cot for sleep because this is what is normal in their culture. The cot becomes an important place to the child – a space that 'belongs' to the child.
There are two main good points about cots.
- The child sleeps at a level which is comfortable for the parent – caring for a baby is more comfortable when you do not have to bend down to reach the baby.
- The child is in a confined and safe place. The child cannot leave the safe place, and the cot provides protection from some risks - it keeps other young children away, and can keep pets away from the baby (although cats may still be able to get into the cot).
The safest place for a baby to sleep in the first 12 months is in the same room as their parent on a separate sleep surface such as a safe cot, because this lowers the risk of SIDS. Have a look at the topic Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (including SIDS) for more about this.
There are many different kinds of cots and bedding on the market for babies. Babies don't care about how smart their beds look, but what is important is that they are safe.
- Children have died in accidents related to cots.
- Many children need hospital treatment every year for serious injuries related to cots.
- Young babies may be at risk of suffocating, strangling or choking.
- Their arms, legs or head might get trapped.
- Toddlers are also at risk of injury from falling while trying to climb out of or into a cot.
Have a look Red Nose information How to make up a baby's cot.
Buying a cot
There are Standards in Australia and New Zealand for cots
- AS/NZS 2172:2003 - for standard 'household' cots
- AS/NZS 2195:1995 – for portable cots.
Cots that meet the Standards will be safe if they are assembled and used correctly. It is illegal to sell cots (including second hand cots) that don't meet the Standards.
The Standards do not apply to bassinettes, rocking cradles or toddler beds. This does not mean that they are all unsafe, just that the standard does not address safety issues about them.
Look for a fixed base cot with the lowest possible base.
What to look for – standard cots
For fixed-based cots
The distance from the mattress base to the lowest part of the top of the cot should be at least:
- 600 mm when drop-side is up
- 250 mm when drop-side is down.
For adjustable cots
Adjustable cots should only have two base heights. The distance between the top of the mattress base and the lowest part of the top of the cot should be at least:
- 400 mm when the base is in highest position and the drop-side is up
- 600 mm when the base is in the lowest position and the drop-side is up
- 250 mm when the base is in highest position and the drop-side is down.
For all cots – gap sizes
- 50 mm to 95 mm of space between bars or panels - bigger gaps can trap your baby’s head or create spaces large enough for your baby to fall through
- no more than 20 mm of space between cot sides or ends and a centred mattress - your baby can get stuck between bigger gaps and suffocate
- no gaps or openings between 30 mm and 50 mm - these can trap your baby’s arms or legs
- no spaces between 5mm and 12mm wide – these can trap fingers
Bits that stick out (protrusions)
- second-hand cots - no more than 8 mm from the top or sides
- new cots—no more than 5 mm from the top or sides
- no fittings that can catch your baby’s clothes and cause strangulation
The mandatory standard allows cots to have one of the following:
- two castors (wheels) or two glides
- two castors (wheels) with brakes and two glides,
- four castors (wheels)—at least two must have brakes.
Product Safety Australia has information about cots.
Safety habits - standard cots
- Always follow instructions carefully when assembling and using a cot.
- Set an adjustable mattress base at the lowest point as soon as your baby can sit up.
- Place the cot in a safe spot away from hazards like electrical appliances, windows or blind cords.
- Use locking brakes on cots with castors (wheels).
- Put the drop-side up when your baby is sleeping.
- Never put these things in a cot with your baby:
- pillows, especially if your baby is under two
- electric blankets or hot water bottles
- toys, books or items that a growing baby can use to climb to the top of the sides or ends of the cot and fall
- objects that could smother or strangle your baby.
- Do not use a cot which is broken.
- Make sure all bolts and screws are tight, and that the cot sides, base and catches are strong.
- Make sure that paint on an old cot is lead free. If you want to use an old cot, strip and repaint the cot if you are not sure that the paint is lead free. Any new cot meeting the Australian Standards will have lead free paint.
Regularly check drop-side cots
While cots with a drop-side make it easier to get your child in and out, you must regularly check this moving part to ensure it’s safe. When a drop-side doesn’t fit properly, is worn, or has loose or missing parts, children can fall out or become trapped in gaps
Portable folding cots (portacots)
The main concerns with portable cots are that they could be dangerous if they collapse. The collapsed side could trap a child, or the child's head may get caught between the mattress and the sides of the cot (these may be stretchable). A larger baby may be able to climb out of the cot. A number of babies in Australia have died in incidents associated with portable cots.
A recent survey by Choice magazine reported that 8 out of 10 portacots on sale in Australia failed testing to see if they met mandatory standards for safety. To find out more have a look at this information on the Choice website.
Have a look at the information on Product Safety Australia site about folding cots.
- The cot should have a mechanism to make sure that it cannot collapse if the lock is accidentally disengaged.
- The cot should be sturdy and not collapse under pressure.
- The base should not sag or collapse when pushed down.
- There should be no gaps to trap a child's head or fingers.
- There should be no gap between the side of the cot and the mattress.
- Only a thin mattress should be used (the one provided with the cot).
- The edges should be smooth with nothing sticking out that could catch a child's clothing.
- There should be nothing that could come loose and cause choking.
- Repair any tears in the cot sides straight away.
- Do not use a portable cot if your child weighs more than 15kg.
What to look for
The mandatory standard is based on AS/NZS 2195:1999.
Compulsory warning labels
The inside of all folding cots must have permanent and clear warning labels covering:
- instructions for assembly and locking procedures
- a warning to check before each use that the cot is correctly assembled and locking devices are fully engaged
- either a warning to use a mattress of specified dimensions, or a warning to only use the mattress supplied by the manufacturer
- a warning not to add an extra mattress as this may suffocate your baby.
- A minimum side height of 550 mm. This is from the top of the base (without the mattress) to the top of the lowest side or end of the cot.
- A minimum side height of 500 mm when the mattress is fitted.
- A minimum side height of 250 mm for cots with a bassinette or upper mattress base.
- Secure latches on folding mechanisms to prevent accidental collapse.
- No dangerous protrusions that can snag clothing.
- No gaps that can trap parts of your baby’s body.
- Only one snug fitting mattress - gaps can trap your baby’s head and cause suffocation.
- All padding or cushioning material, including the mattress, must be firm enough to stop it from covering your baby’s face.
- No features on the sides or ends that could become a foothold that enables your baby to climb and fall out of the cot.
Safety habits – portable cots
- Stop using the cot if your baby can undo latches.
- Stop using the cot when your baby weighs more than 15 kg.
- Place the cot away from potential hazards.
- Check that latches are securely locked before use.
- Check regularly for:
- tears in vinyl and fabric loose
- broken locks and tears that could cause the cot to collapse.
- Never put pillows or an extra mattress or toys in a portable cot, as your baby can become trapped and suffocate between these items or can use these items as a foothold to climb out of the cot.
- Never put an extra mattress in the cot or use a mattress not intended for the cot.
When you buy an antique cot it must come with a certificate that warns you it is not safe to place a child in the cot.
Never let your baby sleep in an antique cot.
- Make sure the mattress is firm and well fitting, and there is no more than a 20 mm gap between the mattress and the cot sides and ends.
- Remove loose plastic coverings from the mattress. Some mattresses need to be prepared for use - follow instructions.
- Do not add extra cushioning to the mattress.
- Mattress protectors need to be strong and fit the mattress firmly.
- Do not use a thick mattress in a portable cot, as a baby can get caught between the mattress and the stretchable cot sides.
- Inflatable mattresses are not safe.
- Some mattresses have a note saying they are 'approved' by health professionals. This does not necessarily mean that the mattress is safe, or that is the right size for your cot or basinet.
Cot safety at home
- Regularly check that nuts and bolts are tight (follow the instructions supplied with the cot).
- Set the mattress base to the lowest position before your baby can sit up.
- Remove climbing aids (such as a large toy) from the cot once your baby can stand up.
- Place the cot away from curtain cords and other cords or ropes which a baby could get tangled in.
- Keep the cot well clear of heaters, electrical appliances, lights and power points.
- Have hanging mobiles well out of reach.
- Make sure the space above the cot is free of objects such as pictures or mirrors which could fall onto your child.
- Keep the cot away from windows, especially if the room is not on the ground floor.
- Never use electric blankets or hot water bottles for babies or young children.
Changing from a cot to a bed
Children over 2 years are generally old enough to sleep on a mattress on the floor or in a regular bed with guard rails. They will be safer if the mattress is on the floor and they can climb in (and out) easily, and if they roll out they won't fall far.
When a young child is moved out of a cot onto a bed, make sure that there are no gaps between the mattress and the wall, or bed head, or rails, etc, where the child's head may be trapped.
For more information have a look at the topic 'Toddlers – moving from a cot to a bed'.
References and more to read
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
Product Safety Australia
Pregnancy, birth and baby
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.