Why Do Cribs Have Slats

Cribs with slats were originally designed for safety. The idea was that nursing women would share a bed with their newborns but, to avoid rolling over and crushing them, place a half whiskey barrel with three slats over their children, forming a sort of protective shell.

Cribs as we know them began in the sixteenth century when someone took the idea of a half of a whiskey barrel and turned it on its side and added slats to make a bed for a baby.

Cribs with slats helped protect children and reduce the possibility of parents rolling over in their sleep.

Why do cribs have slats? Before the 19th century, most babies slept in bed with their parents, and the idea of using a separate piece of furniture for children was unheard of. That changed when a New England carpenter named William Shepard decided to build a little bed for his two-year-old son. The result was the first ever beehive crib.

The slats were often deliberately set too far apart to prevent children from trying to crawl between them and escape. This design also reduced the possibility that someone could access the baby through the crib’s side panels, another potential danger.

Some of the most common reasons why cribs have to have slats are to prevent the baby from escaping, to keep them safe and so that they can breathe properly.

at least once a day now, LO will get her leg stuck between the slats of her crib and scream bloody murder until she is rescued. DH is concerned she’ll really hurt herself one of these times, and it takes forever to calm her down after one of these “episodes.”

of course i know “traditional” crib bumpers aren’t safe and i have no plans to purchase one. however, over the weekend i had considered a mesh bumper, as i’ve read they’re much safer (though i haven’t had a chance to do much research). i’m still kind of on the fence about it.

today my DH called and told me of an idea his mom had that he thought was pretty smart. she said to just secure some cardboard or plexi-glass to the outside of the crib. stops her from getting her limbs caught, but no chance of something falling on her or suffocating her.

my first instinct was that this was a bad idea – but i don’t know if it’s just because my MIL is 100% my BEC, or if it really is a bad idea. i would have to imagine there’s a reason cribs have slats, but i can’t seem to find an actual answer to that.

anyone know? and is putting cardboard on the outside of the crib actually a bad idea (or is it just because my MIL is 100% my BEC)?

Are Crib Slats Safe?

Cribs that are incorrectly assembled, have missing, loose or broken hardware or broken slats can result in entrapment or suffocation deaths. Infants can become stranguled when their head and neck become entrapped in gaps created by missing, loose or broken hardware or broken slats.

ribs look like cages. There’s no mincing words—we surround our children with fluffy animals and whimsical toys by day and lock them up in ornate wooden jails cell by night. Fatherly asked a few experts why. The surprising answer? Because modern cribs evolved from Italian whiskey barrels, and parents are so nervous about changing sleep standards that even now, 300 years after whiskey barrel cribs gained prominence in 18th century Florence, our cribs have slats. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, says Michael Goodstein of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on SIDS. “The sole purpose has always been to keep babies safe while parents slept,” told Fatherly.ADVERTISEMENT

Crib slats can trace their humble beginnings to The Art of Nursing a 1733 must-read that described the “arcuccio” or “arcutio”, which roughly translates to “little arch”. The idea was that nursing women would share a bed with their newborns but, to avoid rolling over and crushing them, place a half whiskey barrel with three slats over their children, forming a sort of protective shell. “Every nurse in Florence is obliged to lay in it, under pain of excommunication,” The Art of Nursing explaining, citing the then-popular punishment for accidental death of an infant. These proto-cribs came with an additional feature—semi circular cutouts, so women could breastfeed without removing the babies from their protective whiskey cages. It wasn’t technically a glory hole. But we’ll admit it sounds a lot like a glory hole.ADVERTISEMENT

Throughout the next century, babies moved from whiskey cages to bassinets, which were kept elevated to keep infants away from dangers on the ground. Cribs made a come back once parents realized that babies could crawl out of bassinets fairly easily. Early crib designers spurned wood in favor of iron, Goodstein says, and painted the cribs with lead-based paint. That backfired fantastically, and parents fled back to wooden cages, in the spirit of whiskey barrels.

Worried about the startling number of babies dying and sustaining injuries from poorly manufactured cribs, the first crib safety standards were released in 1973. The standards declared jail cell-style cribs safe, and parents breathed a collective sigh of relief, until 1976 when the guidelines were updated to include a warning about crib slats that were set too far apart. “What was happening was that babies were getting their heads entrapped in the slats, and asphyxiate from getting their heads and necks caught,” Goodstein says. In 1982, experts updated the guidelines again to outlaw cutouts in crib end panels. And in 1995, slats hit the spotlight again when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned that if parents could fit a soda can through the crib slats, they were too far apart. And although experts had been warning about drop-side cribs for years, it wasn’t until 2011 that the CPSC duly banned the manufacturing and selling of drop-side cribs and also called for stronger slats and even then it took another six months to be enforced and two years for it to be implemented in hotels, rental properties, and child care organizations.ADVERTISEMENT

Which is all a long way of saying that crib standards are slow to evolve—and, as far as industry experts can tell, that’s essentially the reason why cribs still have slats even though ventilation could just as easily be achieved with the mesh used in mobile Pack ‘n Play cribs. There’s an industry (and parental) philosophy that there’s no real reason to fix what’s not broken—especially when it took so long to fix what was truly broken. And as more parents follow safe sleep practice and SIDS rates decline, there’s less information about what, if any, new designs would be better. “It’s good that SIDS rates are down, but it makes it harder to study to see what impact newer products and designs have,” Goodstein says.

So stick to the slats that work. They don’t have to know they’re sleeping in glorified whiskey barrels.

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