When you bring baby home, you have a few basic goals:
- Keep him alive!
- Feed him
- Change diapers
- And get him to sleep
The last one, you’ll find, will probably the most challenging.
It also has the most potential solutions. Put him in the crib? Get a bassinet? A swing? A cradle?
In this article, I want to break down the differences between a cradle vs crib and help you decide which one is right for you; and it might be both!
A cradle is a small sleeping device pretty similar to a bassinet, but what makes them unique is that cradles usually rock from side to side — most often manually, without the use of a motor. Traditionally, they’re made with wooden slats (like a crib), but they can be made of other materials, as well. Cradles are great for your bedside or to keep in different rooms around the house.
A crib is, well, the traditional place for baby to sleep! Full-sized cribs must meet certain sizing standards in the United States, and they’re basically large, usually immovable sleep structures with a sleeping surface a little bigger than 2 feet by 4 feet. The crib should be baby’s “home base” in the nursery.
Now let’s dive in a little deeper to the pros and cons of each, the differences, and which one you should use.
Cradles can come in different shapes, sizes, and materials.
Typically, they look a lot like the one above, with a wooden frame and narrow slats.
The key feature of a cradle, however, is its ability to rock back and forth to soothe baby.
They usually rock manually on a set of legs or some kind of swivel, with the parent providing the pushing or gently swaying with baby’s natural movements. They’re not typically motorized.
Cradles are a lot smaller than full-sized cribs, and are usually a lot closer in size to a mini crib.
Expect the sleeping surface of a cradle to be roughly 3 feet long by 1.5 feet wide or so.
These days, you’ll probably see fewer and fewer of the traditional wooden cradles of yesteryear and more modern ones made of plastic and metal with breathable mesh siding instead of slats.
While the older wooden ones are gorgeous and classic, newer models are more likely to be up to current safety standards.
Beautiful: Is there anything more classic and lovely than an old wooden cradle? I love that antique vibe and the craftsmanship you’ll see in the wood.
But even modern cradles can be pretty sleek and gorgeous. They’ll give your nursery a really cool look.
Rocking motion soothes babies: Motorized baby swings are often AMAZING at helping baby sleep (they were a lifesaver for us), but there are a few drawbacks. First, baby has to be strapped in and shouldn’t sleep in it for too long. Second, they can make a lot of noise.
The gentle swaying of a cradle is a lot more practical and has a similar effect.
Not super portable: Cradles are often relatively small and light, but they have a bit of an awkward shape and usually aren’t on wheels.
It’s not too much trouble to move it from one room to another, but you won’t love taking it up a flight of stairs and you definitely can’t travel with most models.
For something more portable, consider a pack ‘n play.
Outgrown quickly: Cribs usually grow with baby for a long time, and may even convert to toddler beds or even to twin or full beds!
Cradles usually top out once your baby weighs around 25 pounds or less.
May need to buy separate bedding: If you go with a model of cradle that looks like a crib and has a detechable mattress, you may need to factor in the cost of buying sheets for it separately.
Looking for a recommendation for a good cradle?
Parents absolutely love the Baby Bjorn cradle (Amazon link). It’s a beautiful and modern-styled cradle that soothes babies to sleep with ease.
Take a look over on Amazon!
Everyone knows what a crib is, right?
That may be true, but there are a few details worth discussing!
First, the dimensions of a crib.
These are set by law. If you’re going to call something a full-sized crib, it must meet certain size regulations.
While the ornate headboard and smaller design details of baby cribs can change, the actual sleeping surface is highly regulated.
The sleeping surface in a baby crib needs to be around 28 x 52 inches.
(However, there are “mini cribs” available that don’t have to conform to this sizing. These are usually around 38 inches long vs the 52 of a standard crib.)
Durable and long-lasting: Most cribs these days are convertible, meaning they’ll eventually convert to a toddler bed.
Ours even converted from toddler bed into a full-size (yes, FULL) mattress for our daughter.
So barring a catastrophe, that will be my daughter’s bed her entire life until she moves out on her own.
That’s pretty cool!
Most rigorous testing and standards: Let’s face it, these days ALL baby safety is pretty heavily regulated. It’s something we take very seriously in the U.S., which is great.
But I would say cribs probably have the toughest path to the market, with the majority of measurements needing to meet precise standards; plus they need to pass a ton of safety tests.
Most baby sleep products from reputable names will be extremely safe, but cribs pretty much take the cake here.
Not mobile: Standard cribs are quite heavy, usually weighing 30lbs at an absolute minimum and often weighing well over 50-100 pounds.
You’re not going to want to move these once you get them assembled, not even from room to room.
Most won’t fit through a doorway without being broken down again.
Expensive: You can get a cheap, run of the mill crib starting around $125.
But if you want it to be good quality, last forever, and convert into a toddler bed and twin or full bed eventually, you’ll have to pay way more than that.
Plus, don’t forget the cost of pricey crib mattresses and bedding.
(We’ve used and absolutely loved the Pottery Barn Larkin 4-in-1 crib.)
Which is safer, a cradle or a full crib?
If you buy a cradle or crib that’s brand new that’s been manufactured in the past couples of years, all of this stuff is completely safe.
(Baby safety guidelines are extremely strict in the United States. Look for popular brands you recognize, and products that have passed CPSC and ASTM safety requirements.)
The key is to always follow safe baby sleeping guidelines as laid out by pediatric experts:
- Nothing in the crib! No blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or toys.
- No bringing baby to bed. It’s too dangerous.
- Baby should always sleep on her back unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
If you follow those rules, cradles and cribs are both perfectly safe for newborns.
(Note: For cradles, be a little wary of older, wooden-style slats. The slats should be no wider than 2 and 3/8″; any wider than that and they pose a serious risk to baby.
Baby cribs and cradles are both great places for a newborn to sleep, but they really serve completely different purposes beyond that.
Try a cradle if you want something convenient for your bedside that you can use to gently rock baby to sleep (versus a noisy baby swing). It probably won’t be baby’s full-time sleeping device, but it’s a helpful supplement.
Get a really reputable and high-quality convertible crib if you want something sturdy that will last until your baby is a “big kid” and beyond.
When you think of it that way, you could easily have a use for both of these if your budget allows.
Just be sure to look for products that meet modern safety standards, come from trusted brands, or have good user reviews!
In the meantime, you might always want to check out my other baby sleep device comparisons:
Hope this helps, parents!