What is a cot or cotbed?

A cot is your baby’s bed for the first couple of years, usually has fixed sides or one drop-side and tends to fit a smaller space. A cotbed is essentially the same but once your child is ready you can take both sides off, turning it into a junior bed (sometimes called a toddler bed). A cotbed is designed to give you more years’ of use, but that doesn’t mean it has to be more expensive.


There are pros and cons to both a cot and cotbed – find out which style of cot you’d prefer.


What safety advice should you know before buying a cotbed or cot?

For ultimate peace of mind, look for the BSI number BSEN 716:2008, which ensures your cot/cotbed meets all current safety standards. Unfortunately not all carry this, so check the following:

Any cot/cotbed, old or new, should have a space between the bars measuring either:

  • Less than 7mm
  • Between 1.2cm and 2.5cm
  • Between 4.5 and 6.5cm

It should have at least 50cm between the top of the mattress and the top of the cot’s sides.

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If you’re buying second-hand, check all fixtures are secure, there are no protrusions on the top rail and consider stripping and repainting it. A lot of older models were decorated with lead paint, which is now considered unsafe. You should also buy a new mattress.

As it currently stands, FSID neither advises for or against cot bumpers, but they do want to make parents aware that accidents happen if your child plays with them and they become loose.

Unnerving stories about drop-sides in cots has led the USA to consider banning them but there is no issue in the UK as rigorous testing and safety standards have been met.


How much space do you have?

Space, or lack of it, can be a major influence when choosing a cot or cotbed. If you have a small nursery or want your baby sleeping in your bedroom, it may be best to buy a cot, as it can be a lot smaller than a cotbed. Make sure you take a tape measure when you buy!

If there’s more space available, larger cots can give your child more freedom, or you can opt for a cotbed, which is traditionally bigger and will grow with your child.


Do you want the cot right beside your bed?

If you want your baby right alongside your bed, consider a bedside cot. A bedside cot means you can have your baby sleeping next to you safely from birth until they’re ready for the transition from their cot to their first bed. One side of the cot simply slides underneath the mattress or folds away enabling you to position the cot right up to your mattress. With some cots having as many as eight height positions, you can find the right one to line up your baby’s mattress with yours. Then, as soon as your baby is ready to move into their own bedroom, just put the side up and you have an independent cot.

There are many reasons why you might choose a bedside cot - perhaps you like the idea of co-sleeping, want night-time breastfeeding made easier or feel that every second of sleep counts towards your sanity.


Do you want a drop-side?

Especially useful if you suffer from a bad back, a drop-side cot is a side of the cot/cotbed that folds or slides down so you can lift your baby up from his cot with ease.

As your baby grows and you adjust the cot's base to a lower position, bending further over the cot side to pick up your now much-heavier child could be a problem. This is where a drop-side comes into its own. It’s considered easier for transferring a sleeping baby to bed.

The USA is currently investigating drop-sides as a safety risk to small children. America’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has concerns following some fatal incidents. Cots with fixed sides are considered sturdier while drop-sides can deform or break, meaning a child could become wedged between the cot and the mattress. Although the USA look set to ban manufacture of them the UK has a different set of rigorous safety standards and will not be.


Do you want adjustable base heights?

This feature sees the base of the cot/cotbed (what the mattress sits on) adjusted to different heights, and add longevity to your cot/cotbed. When your baby is very young you can position the cot base high, so you gain easy access to them. As your baby grows, you can lower the base so the mattress is further from the top of the sides and your child can’t climb out of her cot. The majority of cots come with this function, but the number of different heights offered does vary. Three height options on a cot/cotbed are pretty standard.


What mattress do you want?

Probably the most important factor when choosing your baby’s cot is the mattress, and the choice can be overwhelming. But, the first major consideration has to be whether it fits the cot/cotbed properly, otherwise there’s a chance your baby could become stuck between the cot/cotbed and the mattress. Generally, the gap should be no bigger than 4cm.

Some models come with a standard mattress but many companies offer a multitude of different ones, made of foam, coil springs, natural materials for allergy sufferers or with anti-microbial treatment. It’s a case of what you feel is important.

While uncommon, some cotbeds require a second mattress once they’re converted into a junior bed, so check this before you buy to avoid any unnecessary extra costs.

And finally, for ultimate peace of mind, a mattress displaying the BSI number BS 1877-10:1997 has met all current safety regulations.

Our buyer's guide to baby mattresses will help you find the right one, and we've also got advice on the different mattress types available.


Where do you start?

Before you spend any money, check out our in-depth reviews of cotbeds and cots. Each has detailed specifications included, from cot size to number of adjustable cot base heights, to help you find the one that best meets your needs.