A few years ago, every mother wanted an infant sleep positioner. They were on every baby shower registry and store shelves around the country. The sleep positioners kept the baby on their back, or so parents assumed it would.
However, in 2010, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning for all parents to stop using these dangerous sleep positioners immediately. Over the course of 13 years, 12 infants, between the ages of one month and four months, died due to suffocation in sleep positioners. They either suffocated in the positioner or between the positioner and the side of their crib or bassinet.
If you are like me, you are horrified by these deaths! They are a horrible product. If you still own one, you need to get rid of it immediately.
While the manufacturers of these sleep positioners designed their product to reduce SIDs, it led to unnecessary deaths as well.
The infants were able to roll from their side to a stomach position. Also, CPSC also received dozens of reports by caregivers stating that they placed their child in these positioners only to later find the child in a very precarious position.
One of the leading causes of injury death in the United States for children under the age of 1 year old is unintentional suffocation. These deaths happen in other circumstances as well. Some kids suffocate because of unsafe items in their crib such as blankets and pillows. A caregiver may unintentionally roll over onto the newborn, or they may slip into the crack on the couch while sleeping.
What are Sleep Positioners?
Consumers were able to purchase two main types of infant sleep positioners – flat mats with side bolsters or inclined wedge mats with side bolsters. Both types had the side bolsters, which are the primary concern for suffocation.
The positioners were supposed to keep the baby on their back, reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, the FDA never affirmed this stance, and there is no scientific evidence showing that these positioners are beneficial.
Some parents purchased sleep positioners for other reason such as:
- Aid in food digestion
- Easing symptoms of colic
- Reducing effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Prevent flat head syndrome
Why are Sleep Positioners Dangerous?
All sleep positioners represent a dangerous scenario. Placing a child on his side or stomach in a flat sleep positioner causes a risky situation. The infant’s face can be trapped against the sides, leading to death by suffocation. Even newborns can easily roll onto their stomachs from their side. Parents always have to be vigilant against these scenarios.
Parents think that inclined positioners are safer. However, babies can scoot and end up with their head on the side. This position also prevents the child from breathing. Children can also scoot or roll on their sides on an inclined positioner.
Another scary scenario for the inclined positioners is that babies can flip them. The positioner can end up on top of the baby, leading to suffocation as well.
13 Infant Deaths Because of Sleep Positioners
It is so important for parents to read and understand the reason why officials advocate against sleep positioners. They look harmless, and their original intentions are great. However, as we take a look at the 13 deaths because of them, we realize there is a huge flaw in their design.
The victims were between the ages of 21 days old to four months old. So, all of these deaths took place in newly birthed babies. Typically, a parent would assume the baby would happily nap in this positioner until they woke up.
Out of the 13 infants, four of them were born prematurely. Three were one of a set of twins. Also, four of the 13 children had recently had a cold or respiratory issue. Unfortunately, nine of these infants were placed on their sides, which goes against the back to sleep message that doctors and experts are trying very hard to push to parents.
Some parents and caregivers have also stated that they have put their infant to sleep in a positioner on their side, later to be found in a dangerous position. However, some babies were laid to sleep correctly, on their back, and still found stuck.
According to the news, a 7-week-old victim had a well-child checkup only five days before his death. No health problems were found. The parents fed their baby at 1:00 a.m. and they laid him to sleep on his side in his sleep positioner in his crib separate from his twin brother. Horribly, he was discovered at 4 a.m. with his face against the device’s foam pads. He died of suffocation by obstruction of his nose and mouth by the foam apparatus.
Because of these 13 preventable deaths, the FDA and CPSC have some warnings for parents, caregivers, and health care professionals.
- STOP using infant sleep positioners. Even though these devices claim to be safe, they are very dangerous and unnecessary.
- NEVER infant sleep positioners, blankets, pillows, quilts under your baby on the inside of their crib.
- ALWAYS lay the baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night. There is a lot of evidence that proves sleeping on their back is the safest way, and it reduces the risk of SIDS.
What are the Safe Sleeping Recommendations?
Your baby is going to spend a majority of their first year of life asleep. Babies need to sleep a lot, especially newborns, to ensure that they grow and develop appropriately. Parents need to make sure that their baby is sleeping in the safest environment based on expert recommendations.
Up to 3,500 children in the United States die while sleeping each year. These deaths happen because of sudden infant death syndrome or other accidental deaths like suffocation or strangulation. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some very clear policies and recommendations for how your child should sleep.
- All babies should sleep on their back at all times – for naps and bedtime. Infants who sleep on their backs are less likely to die from SIDS than children who sleep on their stomachs of sides. Babies with reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease) should still sleep on their back. Parents often worry that their kids will choke or gag on spit up.Once you child can roll from his back to stomach, you don’t have to worry as much. Babies will turn when they want as they sleep. Don’t go in and return your child to their back. You are just going to disturb their sleep. Instead, make sure their crib is safe. Never use bumper pads. Also, keep the space clear of blankets, pillows and other items that could lead to suffocation.
- Always place your baby on a firm sleep surface. Your child should sleep in their crib, bassinet, portable crib, play yard or any item that meets the safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Mattresses should fit firmly into the crib with no space that your baby can roll into and get stuck. Crib mattresses need to be firm. Save the soft beds for your toddlers and older kids.
- Room share with your baby for the first six months of their life at a minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics changed their stance in late 2017. According to experts, room sharing safely – with the child sleeping on a separate, safe surface – decreases the risks of SIDS by 50 percent! That is amazing! Not to mention, room sharing also makes feeding your baby at night easier. Most parents rest easier knowing their baby is safe nearby.
- Follow the advice from the AAP. These experts know what they are talking about, and they have plenty of great advice for parents. For example, evidence now shows what many people have known for centuries. Babies need skin-to-skin with their mother as soon as possible after birth, regardless of delivery method.Mothers should also breastfeed because it adds extra protection against SIDS. Pacifiers offered at nap time or bedtime are proven to decrease SIDS. Doctors recommend receiving all of your child’s vaccination, as well as having supervised, awake tummy time each day.
- Bed sharing isn’t suggested for any babies. Some situations are more dangerous than others such as:If your baby is younger than four months old
If your baby was born prematurely or has a low birth weight
If anyone in the bed is a smoker – even if you don’t smoke in bed
If the mother smoked during pregnancy
Taking medicines that can make it harder for you to wake up.
If the parent is drinking alcohol
- Make sure the sleeping environment is safe. There are a lot of ways to make sure that your baby is safe while sleeping. Clearly, sleep positioners are a horrible idea. Never try to make your DIY brand. Never purchase a used one. If you see one at a garage sale, buy it and throw it away later. Many people don’t know the dangers – you may be saving a baby’s life!
Parents should stay up to date on crib safety. Yes, even the recommendations for crib safety changes. Drop side cribs aren’t considered safe anymore, even though they were used for decades. The hardware has a tendency to fall. Gaps are created, giving the baby a trap to slip into and suffocate. It is never a good idea to use an old crib because you aren’t sure if it meets all safety standards.
Safe Places for Your Baby to Sleep
Before your baby’s arrival, you want to prepare at least one safe place for your baby to sleep. Some parents have more than one location to lay their baby. The AAP recommends room sharing with your infant for the first six months of their life. So, at least one of their sleeping surfaces should be in your bedroom.
- Crib: the first choice is a crib. We mentioned crib safety before and items that are not safe for the interior. Typically, most parents purchase one for their child. They also convert to toddler beds, and some even become a headboard for a double bed later in their lives. They are a great investment.
- Cosleeper: Another popular choice is a cosleeper, such as the one created by Arm’s Reach. These products allow your baby to sleep directly beside you, but in their sleeping area. You won’t be able to roll over onto your baby. These are perfect for breastfeeding mothers. However, they don’t last as long as a crib because they have a lower weight limit. Remember, all of the safety recommendations for cribs also apply to cosleepers.
- Bassinets: New parents often select a bassinet for the first few months of their child’s life. They are typically portable and lightweight. You can keep it close to your bed for those late night wakeups. However, once your baby can roll over, it is a good idea to switch to a larger sleeping area.
- Play Yards: If you want a safe sleeping area for when you travel, a play yard is lightweight, portable, and allows you to lay your baby down to sleep wherever you are.
The FDA issued a warning in 2010 for all manufacturers of infant sleep positioners to stop producing these products. They wanted ample time to review all clinical safety data, allowing them time to decide if the benefits of these positioners outweigh the potential risk.
However, the FDA has never changed their stance. Their position still stands; parents should NEVER use a sleep positioner. The risk of suffocation is too high.
Instead, remember always to follow the safe sleep recommendations determined by experts and doctors. Select one or two of the safe sleeping locations for your baby. Nothing belongs inside of your child’s crib, including a sleep positioner. Remember to lay your baby on their back!