Padded crib bumpers certainly seem like a good idea. What baby wouldn’t like sleeping within a cozy ring of plush padding, right? Plus, cute designs on the bumpers offer a much better visual than wooden rails.
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There’s only one problem: Crib bumpers can be deadly — the reason why they’re now banned in the United States. The Safe Sleep for Babies Act signed into law in May 2022 prohibits the future manufacture or sale of padded crib bumpers.
Of course, that legislative action doesn’t do anything about the millions of crib bumpers previously sold and currently in use.
If a baby-used crib in your house still features padded bumpers, the recommendation is to take them out. Pediatrician Heidi Szugye, DO, IBCLC, explains why removal should be at the top of your to-do list.
The risks of crib bumpers
Padded crib bumpers can cause suffocation, strangulation and entrapment, and there’s a heartbreaking statistic to prove it: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) connected 113 infant deaths to padded crib bumpers between 1990 and 2019.
To many, that tragic tally isn’t a surprise.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised caregivers against using padded crib bumpers in 2011 given the potential danger. That action followed a 2007 study that outlined the hazardous properties of the product.
“There’s no question they can be harmful,” says Dr. Szugye. “For years, you saw crib bumpers marketed as safe for sleep. They are not.”
The federal ban doesn’t include non-padded mesh crib liners. But Dr. Szugye recommends staying away from all bumper products given they serve no real benefit while adding risk.
Inclined baby sleepers also banned
The Safe Sleep for Babies Act also put a “banned hazardous product” label on inclined sleepers for infants. These sleepers — which incline at a slope greater than 10 degrees — have been found to pose a suffocation risk.
The CPSC reported 73 deaths among 1,108 incidents involving inclined sleepers between 2005 and 2019. Testing by the agency found no inclined sleeper safe for infant sleep.
Before the ban, inclined sleepers were involved in numerous product safety recalls.
How to create a safe sleeping environment for your baby
OK … take a deep breath. After all of that information on dangerous sleeping conditions, let’s focus on how your baby can safely snooze.
“Safe Sleep” recommendations by the AAP always begin the same: Place your baby on their back to sleep. “Make sure to do this,” advises Dr. Szugye. “There’s no question it’s the safest way for your child to sleep.”
The push to have babies sleep on their backs began in the 1990s. The movement led to an immediate drop in sleep-related deaths and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Other AAP suggestions related to cribs and sleeping include:
- Allow your baby to sleep in their own space. Sharing a bed or couch with an adult can be dangerous for infants. There’s an increased risk of suffocation from bedding and pillows, plus the possibility of being rolled on by the adult.
- Don’t use swings or car seats for sleep. These pose the same risk as inclined sleepers — mainly that your baby’s head can fall forward due to the tilt and create breathing difficulties.
- Make sure your crib meets current standards. Avoid using cribs made before 2011, when new safety standards took effect. Older cribs often have drop-down sides and wider slats that can be dangerous.
- Use a firm mattress that fits tightly within the crib. A gap between the mattress and crib looms as a suffocation risk. Your mattress is too small if you can fit more than two fingers between the bedding and the crib side.
- No loose blankets, pillows or stuffed animals in cribs. “All you need for the crib is a flat, fitted sheet,” says Dr. Szugye. “You don’t want anything loose that could get in the way of your child breathing.” (Pro tip: Use a “sleep sack” instead of a blanket.)
“Your baby’s sleep position and sleeping environment always matter, whether it’s for a nap or at night,” stresses Dr. Szugye. “Following these recommendations is a simple way to reduce the risk of SIDS or other sleep-related death.”
To hear more from Dr. Szugye on this topic, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode “Babies and Bedtime.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast are available every Wednesday.