Is it safe for my baby to sleep in a dog crate?
May 23, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Is a large port-a-crate a good idea for a portable bed for our 11-month old human baby?

My husband believes that he has come up with a brilliant idea for a place to have our daughter sleep when we go away for the weekend soon. We have a barely used large port-a-crate (36"L x 24"W x 27"H) that is meant for a large dog and he thinks it's a great idea for this purpose. It's this model. I'm not all that into the idea, mostly because, well, the crate is designed for dogs not people but I can't come up with too many other reasons why this is a bad idea. It's soft-sided with a tubular metal frame that snaps together, not unlike a playpen. Perhaps I'm just over-reacting? We also have this Peapod Travel bed, which I think is totally fine and easier to transport but husband thinks it's not as sturdy and the baby can't stand up in it without knocking it over. We have the crate set up with a comfy blanket and some toys in our living room right now and she seems to like playing in it. I know that cribs and baby toys have some very specific regulations for safety that obviously a dog crate would not have to meet but I'm not sure what they are. What are the perils that I'm overlooking?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Who is watching the baby? I know if my husband suggested this, my mother-the-babysitter would have about seven different kinds of fits. (Regardless of actual reasons or safety issues, Grandmother would NOT allow her precious princess baby granddaughter to be in a dog crate and would put her on the sofa with pillows or something instead which would be worse.) Are you looking for actual safety concerns or ways to talk your husband out of this? If it's B, try "I would not be able to relax and enjoy myself on a weekend away knowing we left our baby to sleep in a dog crate."

If it's A, simply that it's not tested for babies. Playpens that HAVE been tested for babies get recalled due to safety issues that didn't come up in the original testing. So, it may be perfectly fine, but there's actually no way to know.

Disclaimer: I dpn't particularly like dogs or dog things, even barely used.
posted by artychoke at 9:46 AM on May 23, 2009

Your husband is a genius.

I assume you're only using the bottom part of the dog crate?

You'll know better than anyone if your 11-year-old can climb out of the crate, but this seems like a very good way to give the baby a safe place to rest - basically a very large cradle.

Go for it.
posted by musofire at 9:54 AM on May 23, 2009

Ditto on the grandparent freakout potential.

Depending on how big your 11-month-old is, you might be pushing it sizewise, but we've had pretty good luck using a Pack-and-Play for a temporary travel bed, even when they're large enough to stand up.
posted by jquinby at 9:56 AM on May 23, 2009

Let me take that part about the "top part" back, having looked at the crate.

However, I still think it's a good idea. The baby will probably feel safe in a snuggly dim place like that, not trapped as you or I might be.
posted by musofire at 9:56 AM on May 23, 2009

I'm a parent of three, fan of co-sleeping, and not at all over-protective, and a very think-outside-the-box mom so this is not a knee-jerk reaction but -- no, do not do this. That crate is collapsible with a metal frame and netting that can trap your baby many different ways. Please, do not do this.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:08 AM on May 23, 2009

Why wouldn't you just co-sleep? You'll be in an unfamiliar place and co-sleeping may be the answer.
posted by Lullen at 10:10 AM on May 23, 2009

I have several dogs but have never had a baby. So I can only offer my very uninformed opinion, which is that this could be a great idea. Dog crates aren't tested on babies, obviously, but good ones are built to be very sturdy.

When I was a little kid I slept on a latex foam bed that was meant for large dogs. My parents thought it would be the most comfortable thing for me and apparently hadn't been sufficiently brainwashed by the Gerber people. Nowadays latex is common for human beds and pretty expensive - it's still the best sleep surface I've found!

My guess is that marketers count on the grandparent freakout factor to jack up prices on baby things. No reason to fall for it if you don't have to.
posted by walla at 10:18 AM on May 23, 2009

Response by poster: This would be for sleeping in our room at a friend's house. She'd only be in it when we were around. Co-sleeping isn't the answer. We did for the first couple months and it was fine and I have no real issue with it other than all of us sleep better when she's in her bed and we're in ours. She sleeps great at home in her crib. She fits in it just fine./

artychoke - It's more "A" than "B".
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:19 AM on May 23, 2009

I wouldn't use it to have her sleep in because if something happened and she got trapped or something, you may not realize right away because you will be sleeping. It's not like she's a newborn, so she would probably be totally fine, but I would rather be safe than sorry with an infant. If you want to put her in it to nap while you are present and awake, it would probably be fine.
posted by ishotjr at 11:07 AM on May 23, 2009

Seconding Mona that I would be concerned that this could collapse on or trap the baby. Real bassinets are recalled every year because babies were trapped. If your baby were under 4 months, I'd say it would probably be fine, but with a moving, rolling, crawling baby ... not a good idea.

Does a friend have a Pack 'n' Play? I've put an 18-month-old in one of those to sleep.
posted by palliser at 11:14 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to add: I checked to see where you live, because I would offer you our Pack 'n' Play if I could. So many people have them, and I'm certain a friend would be perfectly willing to lend it.
posted by palliser at 11:17 AM on May 23, 2009

Rent a crib or playpen for the night? Here, here, or here.
posted by _Mona_ at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The crate seems to be a wonderfully practical item that happens to be marketed for use with dogs. This does not mean the only possible use is dogs.

Have you ever had a dog that slept on your bed? Have you ever, in a moment of supreme drunkenness, considered passing out on the dog bed? It's not like this thing emits special dog-waves that are inhospitable to babies. Common sense is the key here, and as long as the crate doesn't contain things the child should not be putting in its mouth, or is spring-loaded to collapse on a hair trigger, etc, it seems like a fine idea to me.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:30 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it would be AWESOME If you did this, but if you don't do it, Pak n' Plays are available at most thrift stores or free or cheap on craigslist.
posted by serazin at 11:59 AM on May 23, 2009

Babies have thumbs, dogs don't. The crate is designed to hold a dog, but a baby might be able to get out or otherwise cause trouble where a thumbless pup wouldn't be able to grasp and pull at stuff enough to do so.
posted by dilettante at 12:36 PM on May 23, 2009

as long as the crate doesn't contain things the child should not be putting in its mouth, or is spring-loaded to collapse on a hair trigger, etc, it seems like a fine idea to me.

Novelty is bad when it comes to infant sleep spaces. Tested and tried is really the way to go. This is because not all dangers are patent. Some are latent, and do not show themselves until lots of babies have slept in them. I'm absolutely certain the parents who put their babies in new bassinets that were later recalled did not say, "Well, this thing is spring-loaded to collapse on a hair trigger, but what the hell? It's just a baby!"
posted by palliser at 1:23 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm just not picturing it well, but I can't understand how the dog crate wouldn't fall over as soon as your daughter stood up and pushed on the sides. When she stands up, is she closer to the top than a dog would be? That's where that tipping point would be, I would guess.

Maybe try getting it in yourself, and pushing on it at every angle, just to see if anything pops apart, or if it tends to lean over? Can you take both the crate and the travel bed apart to inspect the materials and construction? I would think (just a guess) that they are reinforced at different points, which might make the dog crate unsuitable for a creature that stands up rather than walks on all fours. (I'm assuming your daughter can stand, and maybe take a step or two at this age.)

Otherwise, they look almost the same to me, so if it passed my personal safety inspection, I would be OK with putting my kid in it. We traveled with a Pack-n-Play, which I hated for its bulk and awkwardness, but I would have considered a dog crate like that if they had been available then.

Pack-n-Plays are ubiquitous on Freecycle, garage sales, and resale stores. An option to consider is getting one when you get to town (or ask your friends to get one?), and then donating it when you leave.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2009

I'm a noodge, I know, but I just reread your question, and to answer "What are the perils that I'm overlooking?"

The way a Pack n Play is constructed is that the bottom of it has tubes radiating from the center outward, and the bottom-center collapses upward, like an umbrella. The top-bars all the way around each have a hinge that locks in place. In order for the top-bars to unlock for folding, the center umbrella-type thing has to be collapsed already. This means that the top-bars cannot collapse when there is weight on the bottom of the Pack n Play.

This is not to further push the Pack n Play, but just to say that there are safety features you wouldn't necessarily think to look for, but that are a very good idea when you put a baby in a sleeping space.
posted by palliser at 4:12 PM on May 23, 2009

Do you already own this, and are trying to repurpose it? Or are you looking to buy the one on the link, which retails $120, but is going for $80?

If you're in the US, then a Pack n play is $60 at and it could be delivered to your friend's house (available in Canada at Zellers for $100), and then you could sell it at a consignment shop for much of that back. Besides, the pack n plays are available all over at garage sales and consignment shops. Why wouldn't you buy a pack n play? They absolutely rock, in my experience. $60 max is pretty darned cheap, and it's so not worth it when you're dealing with your child's safety/comfort.

Save your husband's brilliant creativity for other uses.
posted by kch at 4:32 PM on May 23, 2009

I would not do this. I would let a baby explore one of those, supervised by a wide-awake adult, but it is simply not designed for a baby to sleep in. If this is just for one night then bite the bullet and co-sleep. If it's for more than one then get a Pack and Play or something similar. And not to be too discouraging but I'd be cautious about buying used ones; at least make sure there's not a recall on what you're getting.

And that's kind of the point, really. Even the stuff made especially for babies is subject to design flaws and recalls are not at all uncommon. If these flaws can escape the notice of designers, engineers, and corporate lawyers out to limit liability then, no offense, but it's very unlikely you're considering all of the risks of using a dog crate as a crib.
posted by Songdog at 6:39 PM on May 23, 2009

Response by poster: To be clear, I'm not looking for alternatives to the crate. I'm fully aware of other options including Pack-n-Plays. We have other options but my husband wants to use the crate (which we also have). I can sit inside the crate perfectly well and I have to admit, it's pretty solid and wouldn't tip over. I think I'm most worried about the possibility that her little curious hands might find some place to get them stuck. I do need to better understand how the crate comes apart to figure out if it's something she could do on her own.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:41 PM on May 23, 2009

If something does happen, anything, whether it relates to the crate or not, you will be those people whose child was injured because they made it sleep in a dog crate.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The dangers, if they exist, lie not in getting the hands caught, but in getting head, clothing or bedding caught, with the associated risk of strangling. Even old cribs, depending on their design, are not necessarily considered safe from those risks.

In practical terms, your husband is quite right, assuming no risk of entrapment, the child will be quite safe. If the child is safe, why not?

On the other hand, as you will have seen from the thread above, even if not from your general observations of our culture, there is a HUGE emotional bias against doing this sort of thing. There are many people who will instantly judge you to be an unfit parent if you do this; their reaction is irrational, but has all the weight of traditional wisdom. As BoscosMom notes above, if something unpleasant happens you will be blamed however unrelated the the issue is to the crate. In most places I would guess it would end up as a local/national news, child protection, police kind of deal, and even if you are officially exonerated you might never live down the public disgrace.

This is the kind of deal where logic is all on one side, and the real risks are tiny, but the potential cost is so great that most people judge it better to conform to the culture and do what's socially acceptable.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:24 AM on May 24, 2009

Hands getting stuck are not the problem; it's hair or clothing, which could tighten as the baby tries to free herself, leaving the baby's nose and mouth stuck against the mattress or bedding. Or her head could get trapped; it seems impossible on any bassinet, but it happens. It's literally impossible to tell from inspection all of the myriad ways a baby can get trapped.

I don't understand "we have other options but my husband wants to use the crate." Is this some kind of vanity project -- he had this great idea, and so is fixated on putting it into action? Sure, it's cute and, I don't know, indie repurpose-y, to think about a baby sleeping in a dog crate. But that seems insufficient motivation to do something whose safety you, personally, have to be investigating, and thus depending on your own ability to foresee all potential dangers (again, impossible). Can't you just slap some duct tape on a Pack 'n' Play and feel all urban-crafty that way?
posted by palliser at 2:35 PM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

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