Deaths from sudden infant death syndrome — unexplained infant deaths — have declined since 1992. That’s when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) first recommended that babies be placed on their backs to sleep.
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But today, deaths from accidental suffocation are on the rise, and crib bumpers are partly responsible.
Pediatricians say crib bumpers, decorative pads that coordinate with crib décor and prevent tiny arms and legs from getting stuck between the slats, aren’t needed. In fact, new AAP guidelines urge parents to avoid them.
Too close for comfort
“After about 2 months of age — even before they can roll — some babies are able to scoot themselves over to the side of the crib. There is a danger that they will squash their faces against the bumper or wedge themselves between the bumper and the crib. Those who are not strong enough to turn away, or who can roll only in one direction, can suffocate,” says Emma Raizman, MD, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital pediatrician.
Hands and feet caught between slats don’t typically result in injuries, she says. But if the prospect worries you, it’s best to buy a new crib. Consumer studies find that in newer cribs — designed with the slats closer together — bumpers don’t offer any extra protection.
Crib bumpers aren’t the only cause of accidental suffocation in cribs — any soft material can be dangerous. For that reason, Dr. Raizman urges parents to follow these AAP tips for safe sleep:
- Place babies on their backs, in the center of a crib or firm sleep surface.
- Remove all soft objects and loose bedding from the crib. This includes stuffed animals; set them on the floor or on a dresser or window seat.
- Keep the room warm enough so that your baby is comfortable in a Onesie or swaddled.
- Don’t cover your baby’s head; it’s important that babies not become overheated.
- Do not use pillows, wedges or positioners.
Safe bonding tips
Many parents enjoy bringing baby into their bed — partly for convenience when breastfeeding and partly to encourage bonding. But just like crib bumpers, bed-sharing is an all-too-common cause of accidental suffocation.
“It is very easy for an exhausted parent to fall sound asleep, roll over and suffocate a baby. It’s far more common and more dangerous than the baby getting a hand or foot caught in the slats of a crib,” says Dr. Raizman.
Share your room, not your bed
Although sharing the bed with your baby is discouraged, sharing a room is recommended.
“When your baby awakens, you can sing, and massage him for a few minutes. Then as soon as he falls asleep, go back to your bed. This will enhance the bonding experience, but in a safe way,” says Dr. Raizman.
And should your baby’s hand get caught between the slats of the crib, his or her cries will awaken you.