What To Know About Rails & “Big Kid” Bed Safety

by Steph Montgomery

Transitioning your baby to a "big kid" bed is bittersweet. You're excited for this new milestone, but it's difficult to see them grow up and keep them safe, especially once they learn to climb out of their cribs. When my daughter climbed out of her crib and fell one night, my partner and I moved her to a toddler bed the next day. She could be a wild sleeper, though, so we worried about her rolling out of bed and starting considering rails. But are bed rails safe to use? Thankfully, the answer is usually "yes," as long as parents keep a few things in mind.

The first important thing to note is that there is a difference between the rails that come attached by the manufacturer to toddler beds (which are safe), and portable bed rails, which you can purchase separately and might be designed for use with either children or adults. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), portable bed rails should only be used with children ages 2-5, who can get in and out of an adult-sized bed without your help. It's also important that parents choose a bed rail specifically designed for use with children.

In 2012 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) adopted new child portable bed rail safety standards, in response to reports they caused injury and death. These standards require that portable bed rails not create a gap with the mattress where a child might get trapped, and that hardware be permanently attached to the bed to prevent the rails from pulling away from the mattress. The CPSC goes on to advise that bed rails should never be used with children under 2 years old, due to the increased risk that younger children might get trapped between the rail and their bed.

Consumer Reports agrees, but they further caution that parents use portable bed rails only on an adult sized mattress and with a box spring. Any other beds, including cribs, toddler beds, bunk beds, waterbeds, youth beds, inflatable mattresses, or mattresses without a box spring may not be strong enough to support the rails. They advise parents check the rails each night to make sure they are secure, and to leave at least nine inches between the rail and the head and foot of the bed. They also warn parents that putting a bed against the wall is not safe.

What if your child is not ready for a big kid bed with rails, or is under 2 and already crawling out of their crib? The American Academy of Pediatrics advises using a crib until your child is 3 feet tall or is able to put their foot or leg on the the top rail of the crib. When you move your toddler to a bed, you can use a toddler bed, a convertible crib, and even a mattress on the floor, until they are ready for a twin bed, to keep your kid safe, while you are trying to get some well-deserved sleep.