How to buy the best cot bed or cot
By Alison Potter
A cot bed needs to look good in your child's nursery, but you also want one that's going to keep your baby safe while sleeping, and be easy for you to put together and use.
In this article:
Once your baby grows out of a Moses basket or bassinet, which most parents use for a newborn, he or she will need to move into a cot or cot bed. There are pros and cons with each.
- A cot bed is a cot with removable sides and a removable end panel that can be converted into a toddler-sized bed.
- Your child could outgrow an old-fashioned crib or cot by the time they reach one or two years old. The big advantage with a cot bed is that it will last years longer than a cot, because you can use it as a junior bed.
- Most cot beds will last until a child is seven or eight years old. But this will depend on their weight, and how much wear and tear they put the bed through.
- Cot beds are larger than cots – generally around 70cm wide – so they give your baby a bit more space to roll about and stretch their arms. They’re not necessarily that much more expensive.
- If you have the space, it might make sense to buy a cot bed from the outset, as it will last longer and you can avoid the hassle of having to buy two separate pieces of furniture.
- Cot prices start at around £70 for a basic cot, up to around £700 for a luxury solid-oak model.
- Cots are generally smaller than cot beds – around 50-60cm wide – so if your baby’s bed will be in your room until he or she is six months old, as is the current advice, a cot may fit more easily if space is limited.
- Sizes do vary, though. Cots designed to fit 'standard-sized' cot mattresses are a few centimetres narrower than cots designed for 'continental-sized' mattresses, although they're often a similar length (around 140cm). Measurements should be clearly displayed on the cot label.
- You can buy bedside cots with a removable side, so you can position it right next to your bed. You can adjust the base so your baby’s mattress lines up with yours, which makes night-time feeding easier.
- If you’re planning on more than one child with a small age gap between them, a cot may be more suitable, as you’ll more than likely use the cot for the new baby and buy a single bed for your older child.
A standard cot or cot bed – rectangle shape, fixed sides – isn't your only option. You could choose to go for a drop-sided or sleigh cot or cot bed, or one with a drawer or storage built in.
Some cot beds and cots have one side rail that can drop down to give better access for getting your baby in and out.
Drop-sided cot beds and cots are particularly useful if you're short or have a larger build, as the drop side makes it easier for you to get your baby in and out.
There are different ways to lower the drop side. Some drop-sided cots and cot beds have a nudge-and-lift mechanism, which is helpful because you can operate it with one hand while you've got your baby in the other. Others have catches, a trigger mechanism or a foot pedal.
There has been some controversy over drop-sided cots in the USA. Read our guide to using cot beds safely.
The drop side and the back rail are usually removed when you convert a drop-sided cot bed into a junior bed.
Sleigh cot beds are popular with parents. The name comes from their wavy design, which makes them stand out from their straight-sided counterparts.
When you're buying, check that the sleigh-shaped ends, which are usually bolted on either side of the head and foot boards, don't create a dip or groove between the pieces of wood where your baby's clothing could get caught.
Sleigh cot beds can be either drop-sided or have fixed sides. The side rails will be removed to turn the cot into a bed.
Cot beds with drawer
Some cots and cot beds utilise what's essentially dead space beneath the base and the legs by including a drawer.
A cot bed with a drawer might be ideal for you if your baby's nursery is small and lacks storage space.
It's possible to get sleigh cot beds and cots with drawers.
1. Height-adjustable base
Most cots and cot beds have a base that you can adjust as your baby grows, usually with three positions.
When your baby is small, the mattress sits on the highest base level for the first few months, so you can lift your baby in and out easily. The instructions usually recommend that the lowest position is the safest, and should always be used as soon as your baby starts to move about a bit and pull themself up, which can be about eight months old.
You may think it's pointless going for a three-position cot bed in this case, but it's normal to use the second-height position for the bed mode, as the lowest one can be a bit low for a bed. With a choice of several heights, you can adjust the bed to suit your child, however old they are.
2. Cot mattress
Don't forget, whatever cot or cot bed you go for, it's crucial to get the right type and size of mattress to go in it.
The Lullaby Trust, which promotes advice on safer sleep for babies, recommends that you buy a new mattress or, if using a second-hand mattress, carefully check that it is clean, dry and free from cracks or tears beforehand. Your mattress should be firm, with no sagging, and should fit the cot or cot bed snugly with no gaps.
Read more safe sleeping tips in our dedicated guide.
Mattresses are normally sold separately from a cot or cot bed, giving you a choice of different types, but the manufacturer will make recommendations for which size you should use.
See our pick of the best cot mattresses.
Cot beds are generally bigger than cots, and although there's a lot more variation in sizes, most cot beds are quite similar: around 146cm long and 77cm deep, and between 90cm and 105cm tall at the head end. Cots are generally around 50-60cm wide and 140cm long.
Most cot beds have side rails that are around 84-87cm high in the highest position, which makes them challenging for shorter people to reach over to lay a sleeping baby down. A cot bed with a drop side will reduce this height, making it easier to reach your baby when the base is on the lowest position.
Double check the cot bed you choose will fit in your bedroom (where your baby is meant to sleep for the first six months), as well as where you plan to put it in the nursery.
4. Teething rail
Chomping on the edge of a cot is a habit many teething babies relish. Choosing a cot with a teething rail – a protective covering on the side edges of the cot – helps to protect your cot bed and your toddler from damage caused by each other.
Some cots have casters or mounted wheels – handy if you want to move it into a different room. It also makes for easier cleaning under and around the cot.
White and grey are the two most popular colours if you don't want to go for a standard wooden finish, but you can also get blue and pink cot beds and a host of other colours.
7. Wood or not?
Check whether the cot or cot bed you're buying is made from wood or MDF, which is an engineered wood product. You'll generally pay more for a wooden cot bed than for MDF, but the cost will depend on the type of wood. For example, a plywood cot will cost less than one made from real mahogany.
Remember also to check whether the 'mahogany' on the label is real mahogany, or a finish on top of MDF.
When it comes to the safety of your baby, you can never be too careful – especially when creating a safe sleeping space.
Using a second-hand cot could save you some cash, but there are some essential safety tips to read first.
- get a copy of the original instructions – many can be downloaded from the internet
- buy a new mattress for the cot
- check whether the cot conforms to British (BS EN 716-1:2008+A1:2013) or European safety standards – look in the instructions for a BS number, or check for markings on the cot itself
- make sure it's in a good condition and nothing is broken or worn out
- measure the bar spacing: the bars should be no more than 6.5cm apart, so your baby can't get stuck between them
- check that there's at least 50cm between the top of the mattress and top of the cot
- check there are no protrusions on the top rails where your child could catch his or her clothing, or get anything caught around his or her neck
- make sure the drop-side mechanism works smoothly, and stays reliably in the ‘up’ position
- check that the drop side is secure and can't be lowered by a child
- check there are no footholds, cut-outs or ledges in the sides or the ends that could help a baby climb out
- make sure that the mattress is the right size – there should not, at any point, be a gap of more than 3cm between the mattress edge and the cot
- remove any transfers on the inside of the cot, because they could come off and become a choking hazard.
- accept a cot unless it comes with the original instructions, or you can get a copy of them from the manufacturer; they contain important advice for using the cot safely
- use an old family heirloom, as it probably won’t meet current safety standards
- use a worn, dirty or damp mattress
- choose a mattress with handles – they may trap your baby's hands or feet
- stick decorative transfers and labels on the inside of the cot, or anywhere else your baby can reach.
Travel cots are portable cots that you can fold up and put in a bag to take away with you. Most have a plastic or metal frame, woven fabric and mesh sides, and a hard segmented bottom with a folding, lightly padded mattress.