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Are bunk beds safe for 3-year-olds?
Q: Is it safe for a 3-year-old to sleep on the top bunk of a bunk bed? I know there are also "mid-size" beds where the mattress platform is at 48" high (there is a ladder and railings around the bed); is it okay for a 3-year-old to sleep in that type of bed?
Carmen Portsmouth
A: Carmen, children love bunk beds—climbing up and down, and having a special “kids-only” place to play, hide, and sleep. But bunk beds can be hazardous for children. Every year, over 30,000 children are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms and approximately 10 children die from bunk bed injuries. Serious injuries happen when children get their heads trapped between the railings, hang, and fall from the bed. While 60% of the children who died in bunk beds are under 3 years of age, a significant number of older children are injured, as well.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued new safety requirements for bunk beds for children. They define bunk beds as any bed that is over 30” off the floor. Bunk beds manufactured after the year 2000 must meet the safety standards, but older bunk beds might not meet the standards. Here are CPSC’s basic safety recommendations:
  • Don’t allow children under age 6 to use the upper bunk.

  • Buy a bunk bed that has been inspected and certified according to the new safety standards. It should have securely attached guardrails on all four sides (including the wall-side of the bed); the lower edge of the lower guardrail should be less than 3.5” above the foundation of the bed to prevent head entrapment; and the upper edge of the guardrail should extend at least 5” above the mattress to prevent falls.

  • Establish the following safety rules:

  • • No jumping, pushing, or kicking on the beds.
    • No more than one person on the upper bunk at a time.
    • Use the ladder for getting up and down from the upper bunk.

According to the CPSC safety recommendations, you should wait a few more years to get a bunk bed. When you get a bunk bed, be sure to sit down with your child to discuss safety. Explain to him that children sometimes get seriously hurt on bunk beds, and ask, “How can we make sure nobody falls off the top bunk and hurts himself?” Your child will be able to help you come up with the list of safety rules, which will help him feel proud of himself and more committed to following the rules.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician