Choosing your baby's crib is one of the most important nursery furniture decisions you will make and one of the most challenging. If you do not subscribe to the "family bed" theory, your baby will sleep in a crib until they are 2 or 3 years of age. There are countless makes and models on the market, each offering its own set of easy-to-use features.

There are six styles of cribs to choose from:standard, convertible, canopy, round, corner, and portable. Prices run from economy ($100 to $150), mid-range ($150 to $450) to high-end models ($450+) that can get quite expensive.

Cribs at the lower end of the price scale are usually made of cheaper materials and simpler finishes. They tend to be light-weight with minor wood defects such as knots and variation in color. Mid-range models tend to be sturdier and more decorative than low end model cribs. High-end models tend to be made of high quality hardwood with special finishes such as hand-rubbing or burnishing. These cribs most commonly include drawers or convert into toddler or full-sized beds.

Most cribs are made of wood or metal, with few made of molded plastic. Softer woods such as pine are less expensive and dent easily. Hardwood cribs such as maple or oak are more expensive but they are heavier and will last longer.

Dark wood stains such as mahogany are a popular wood choice for many parents, although cribs also come in many light wood finishes such as oak or maple. White painted cribs are the most popular choice and most common color available. If you opt for a painted crib, make sure the paint is lead-free and non-toxic. Lead-based paint has not been manufactured since 1978 and has been banned in North America– yet another reason to always buy new!

Overall, the price and quality of your crib does not matter if it is not assembled correctly and maintained. Cribs are shipped unassembled in a box, so be sure to follow assembly instructions carefully. If you are uncomfortable with setting up your crib, you can arrange to have the retailer deliver and setup your crib for you. This will cost you an extra $65 or more, but the peace of mind and convenience of having an experienced assembly crew set up your crib may be worth the extra cost.

Once it is assembled, you will want to regularly check your crib to ensure nothing is loose or broken. Periodically check all nuts, bolts, and screws and tighten then if they have come loose. Check the teething rails for cracks and sharp edges and replace rails when cracks or sharp edges appear. Check the mattress support hooks regularly, especially if you move your crib around the nursery, and replace any bent or broken hooks. If you change the height of the mattress support, make sure all support hangers are securely fastened.

Your crib will include a manufacturer warranty of varying length. Some manufacturers guarantee their products to be free from defects in workmanship and material under normal household use and service for 1 or 2 years following the date of purchase. Other manufacturers guarantee their hardware only for 5 years against any defects. Check the warranty details for your specific crib and remember, a long warranty or higher cost does not necessarily mean a better product.

Your crib will also come with a Product Registration Card, which you should fill out and send in to the manufacturer. The manufacturer uses this information to activate your warranty and send you the proper replacement parts if something needs to be replaced on your crib. The information you provide on the card is also used to notify you of any product or part recalls related to your crib. If you have lost your Product Registration Card, you can always call the manufacturer directly and give them your personal information and the serial number of your crib.

You can contact CPSC at 1-800-638-2772 to make sure your crib has not been part of a recall. You can also check these sources to find crib recall information:

Consumer Reports
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Advertiser Links for nursery furniture