Why Do Cribs Have Slats? Crib Guide

When your baby learns to pull themselves up on the slats of their crib, they can look like they’re in a tiny baby jail, which is both insanely cute, and, well… kind of strange when you really think about it — Why do all cribs utilize slats?

The crib has certainly evolved over time, but one thing that seems to have more or less been a constant since their inception is the use of slats to form the high-sided walls.

Now, you’d think that a baby being able to fit their limbs through the gaps would be a safety hazard, so how come the human race is in consensus that slats are the way to go?

Well, this was playing at my mind just as I’m sure it’s playing at yours, so I asked the baby sleep specialist that occasional visits at the local baby group, and here’s what she had to say.

It All Started With Whiskey

Before the invention of cribs, co-sleeping was pretty much the only option for parents, so to prevent accidents, i.e. babies tumbling off the side of the bed or being squished by rolling parents, half a whiskey barrel would be placed over them.

All but three panels would be removed from the whiskey barrel, creating a left, right, and central slat setup — Thus, the prototypical crib was born!

The gaps between the panels allowed parents to see their babies and facilitated a good air flow, so the babies wouldn’t suffocate.

This design would gradually evolve into the arcuccio, which was basically the same thing but made specifically for the protection of babies rather than the protection of whiskey beforehand.

The arcuccio is the most distant ancestor of what we now know of as the modern crib.

The Continuation Of Slats

photo of a white crib in a white room with baby toys.

The question then becomes… why are slats still, all these years later, the go-to design for cribs?

Well, very much for the same reasons that the whiskey sippin’ parents of yesteryear pried most of the panels from their boozy barrels.


Even with a wide open top, it can be hard for our babies’ tiny lungs to draw enough oxygen as they sleep in a crib with solid sides, but the slats ensure there’s always good air circulation.

Furthermore, the slats create a tiny bit of breathing room between the mattress and the crib, so if a particularly wriggly little one manages to roll over in their crib to the edge of the mattress, they’ll still have access to air. This is partly how cribs lower the frequency of SIDS incidents.


If we parents had our way, our children would never leave our sight, which is why baby monitors are an absolute godsend, but if cribs had solid walls, it would be incredibly hard to station a video monitor to get good visuals.

It would either have to be very high up or actually dangling above your baby, which obviously isn’t safe. But with a slatted crib, the monitor can be placed to peer through the gaps even when you have the crib mattress lowered all the way.

Why Slats Aren’t Dangerous

My main concern about slats was that my daughter’s limbs would fall out the crib and she might get stuck, or a sudden movement might cause her pain, or maybe even lead to a broken bone.

However, numerous studies have shown that it’s virtually impossible for a baby to feel anything more than mild discomfort when their arms or legs dangle through the gaps between the slats.

Of course, the slats need to be spaced correctly to prevent anything more than arms or legs getting through the gaps — Current standards stipulate that there should be no more than 6 cm between each slat.

Any bigger than that, and there’s a chance that a small baby could potentially get their head stuck between the slats.

For the same reasons, it’s also absolutely crucial that there are no missing slats, and if any become cracked or otherwise seriously damaged, they must be replaced before your baby next sleeps in their crib, just like your other baby gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cribs With Solid Tail & Headboards Safe?

While all cribs have slatted sides, some have solid boards at the front and back of the design.

This is absolutely fine, and is in accordance with all the latest safety regulations. It’s possible that it restricts air flow a little, but not in any dangerous way.

Ultimately, choosing between these types of crib comes down to personal preference. Whichever seems like the best crib overall is likely the one to go for regardless of whether it has solid front and backboards.

Are Drop Side Cribs Safe?

Never, ever buy a drop side crib for your baby, as they’re incredibly unsafe!

The hardware that facilitates the movement of the drop side can easily become damaged or dislodged, allowing your baby to get stuck in the gap between the side and the rest of the crib.

You shouldn’t find any of these cribs on the market, as they’ve been banned since 2011, but if you’re buying second hand, stay well away from them.

Are Crib Bumpers Necessary?

Strangely, one thing that hasn’t been banned is the extremely dangerous crib bumper.

The idea of these pieces of kit is they cover the gaps between the slats of a crib, thus preventing the limbs of children falling through, but this simply isn’t necessary.

As mentioned earlier, there’s very little chance of a child injuring themselves between the slats of their crib. All borders do is reduce airflow and massively increase the risk of suffocation if your child rolls over.

These things are still sold everywhere, but you need to avoid them like the plague!

Final Thoughts

Slats don’t seem like the safest option for crib walls at first thought, but as you (and I) now know, they’re actually the best way to facilitate proper ventilation and clear visuals.

Yep, we owe the humble slat a debt of gratitude for their help keeping our babies safe during sleepy time — Thank you slats; you’re the best!

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Michelle Jacobs

Michelle Jacobs

Michelle is a young mom and crafts fanatic. In her free time she loves to write about her latest creations, and how other moms can entertain their children with some colored paper and a pair of scissors!