With pushchairs, bassinets, slings, high chairs, nappy bins and countless other items already on your new parent shopping list, you may be starting to question which bits of baby paraphernalia you really do need. An occasional-use travel cot may seem like an obvious item to chop, but do they have any use outside of holidays and what do you need to look for if you do decide to purchase a portable bed for your mini traveller?
- Best travel cot: lightweight cots for babies and toddlers
Why do you need a travel cot?
As the name suggests a travel cot is primarily used for your baby or young child to sleep in when you’re away from home.
Unlike standardised cotbeds, travel cots come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are designed to be easy to put up and pack away. Most travel cots have a rigid rectangular frame that clicks into place, mesh or fabric sides that fold down into a small travel bag. The legs often have a couple of wheels on the bottom so, once folded, the cot can be easily rolled around. Travel cots are usually smaller than cot beds and designed to squeeze into hotel rooms and Airbnbs. Once packed up, travel cots should easily fit into your car boot and a few are even small enough to fit into a suitcase or overhead plane locker (ideally not with the baby inside though).
Some travel cot beds are completely made of fabric – almost like small pop up tents – and are great for when you’re really short on space. Essentially they are a smaller, more portable sleeping system, which you can take anywhere.
Does a travel cot have any other uses?
As well as a portable bed for overnight sleep and naps, many travel cots can be used as playpens (just add a few balls for instant ball pit fun – minus the soft play germs) or a place to pop an active baby while you quickly do a chore.
It’s also worth considering that as well as overnight sleep when away from home, travel cots can be useful for daytime naps either at a friend's, a childminders house or even in your own home – especially if you often have other parents coming around for playdates and are in need of an extra bed for another napping tot.
Can I just use a travel cot instead of a regular cot?
Travel cots are designed for occasional use not for regular sleep over a long period of time. Although it may be tempting to do away with another piece of baby kit (especially if they sleep well in your travel cot), you need a robust, permanent cot for everyday use in addition to a portable bed.
There’s already a cot at my destination, do I really need to bring my own?
As all parents know, there is nothing more sacred than a night of undisturbed sleep and even if there is already a cot at your destination there’s no guarantee what condition it will be in and whether your little one will be comfortable. As your child will already be in an unfamiliar environment, (potentially even an unfamiliar timezone – good luck!) many parents decide it is worth bringing along a cot that their child knows and is happy and safe in.
Travel cots often have much thinner, harder mattresses, so it is better to bring along your own cot (with additional secure-fitting, safe mattress if needed), rather than being tempted to unsafely pad an unfamiliar travel cot with pillows or quilts (which poses a suffocation risk).
Safety features you need to look for in a travel cot
Like all cots and cot beds sold in the UK, travel cots must meet the European Safety Standards, so whether your cot is built for home or away, the same safety rules apply. To be extra sure of a cot's safety, check that it meets British safety standard BS EN 716.
UK safe sleeping experts, The Lullaby Trust, advise parents to use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in a good condition. As travel cots often come with much thinner mattresses you may want to purchase an additional travel cot mattress. Ensure that is a true fit for your cot (check dimensions as sizes vary) and be aware that adding a mattress can also affect the stability of the bed, so ensure the mattress top is at least 50cm below the top rail of the cot to avoid toppling.
If you’re considering a pop-up travel cot it’s worth noting that The Lullaby Trust recommends parents always use a cot with rigid sides as there is a danger of tripping and falling on top of flexible cots, so be extra cautious when moving around, especially at night.
What to look for when purchasing a travel cot
There are a few things to consider when shopping for your travel cot, although it largely depends on what you want to use it for. Most travel cots are for babies of around three months to three years, although some are for children up to five. Others are designed with newborns in mind, featuring bassinets which you can add on. Some also come with clip-on changing tabletops and toys, which can be really handy, but will likely be larger when packed away, so ideal for leaving at the grandparents, but not great if you’re looking for something super portable.
Ultimately, you need a travel cot that meets all the safe sleeping regulations, fits your space and is easy to put up and pack away again.
Can I buy or borrow a second hand travel cot?
Borrowing or purchasing a second-hand travel cot can be a cost-saving good option if you’re only planning on using it occasionally. However, The Lullaby Trust recommends buying new cots where possible, to ensure all safety precautions are met. With this in mind, if you are looking at a used travel cot, always examine it thoroughly first.
Look for any holes in the mesh sides, broken wheels, missing corner guards and put it up and break it down again to check that the frame locks properly into place. Keep an eye out for broken zips that can be a potential choking hazard and inspect the mattress thoroughly for tears and whether it fits the frame without any gaps. Get your hands on the original instructions (you can often find these online if they didn’t come with the cot) and make sure that you are confident it can be assembled correctly.