Rockers, bouncers, swings, loungers, nappers – odds are you had one of these on your baby registry. They can help relax your baby or keep them entertained. But experts warn that they should never be used for sleep.
That’s according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (the US gov agency that sets product safety standards). They investigated at least 13 infant deaths linked to Fisher-Price rockers specifically. The agency reminded parents that no inclined product (aka anything with an incline of more than 10 degrees) is safe for infant sleep. But in case you’re wondering, car seats can be safe (more on that below).
Find out more about other infant sleeper recalls and warnings on CPSC’s website.
What do we know about infant sleep deaths?
Newborns to 4-month-olds are at higher risk for sleep-related deaths. And 90% of sleep-related deaths happen in the first six months.
“We need to recognize that 3,500 babies a year die in their sleep. That’s 10 babies a day on average. That number has been fairly consistent over the last decade. Many of those deaths are preventable and a lot of them are due to unsafe sleep practices, especially due to products that promise better sleep,” said Dr. Ben Hoffman, a pediatrician and chair of the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Why are baby rockers unsafe for infants to sleep in?
They can cause babies to suffocate.
“Especially with younger infants who have relatively weaker necks and relatively larger heads, there’s a tendency for that angle to lead to the head tipping forward. So either chin-to-chest or chin-to-shoulder [positions] can obstruct or block the airway, [leading] babies to suffocate,” he said. “And a number of the deaths associated with inclined sleepers were among young infants who weren’t yet rolling, and who rolled over, suffocated on the soft padding within that product, and weren’t able to roll back.”
Reminder: Infant rockers gently swing back and forth and are supposed to soothe babies — not put them to sleep.
“It’s OK to use them if infants are awake and if they’re under constant supervision because you don’t know when they’re going to fall asleep,” said Dr. Hoffman.
What’s being done to prevent more infant sleep deaths?
A CPSC new rule goes into effect June 23 that bans all products marketed for infant sleep that have more than a 10 degree incline (think: rockers, loungers, and bouncers). The only products that can be marketed for infant sleep are cribs, bassinets, play yards, and bedside sleepers (separate small cribs or bassinets that attach to the parents’ bed but allow babies to sleep alone).
Congress also made moves. The Safe Sleep for Babies Act, signed into law in May, makes it illegal to manufacture and sell inclined sleepers for infants up to one year old and crib bumpers (soft fabric pads that lie around the inside of a crib). Before the law, companies could still make and sell these items considered unsafe by the AAP and CPSC.
Can my baby sleep in a car seat?
Dr. Hoffman said it’s safe for a baby to sleep in a rear-facing car seat that’s installed according to the manufacturer’s safety instructions. But once it’s outside of the car and off its base, parents should transfer the baby to a safe place.
“As a pediatrician and a parent, I recognize that that’s not always practical or doable. And if it is not practical or doable, then the parent or caregiver needs to watch that baby like a hawk. That to me is no different than a baby in a bathtub with water in it,” he said.
Remind me. What is the safest way to put my baby to sleep?
On their back on a flat, firm surface.
“Which means a non-inclined surface with an approved mattress and nothing else. No bears, no bumpers, no blankets,” said Dr. Hoffman.
The AAP on June 21 updated its safe infant sleep recommendations for the first time since 2016. The recommendations are based on studies that include infants up to 1 year old.
Here are some key takeaways:
Don’t let your baby sleep in products that aren’t specifically marketed for sleep.
Don’t use sitting devices, such as car seats, strollers, swings, infant carriers, and infant slings, for sleep, especially for infants younger than 4 months.
Sleep in the same room (but not in the same bed) as your baby for at least the first six months.
Make sure your baby receives routine vaccines. Studies suggest vaccines may protect babies against SIDS.
Multiple studies have shown pacifiers can help reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out after your baby is asleep. The exact reason for this is still unclear. But researchers suggest it could be that pacifiers help keep airways open.
Research shows breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. The longer you give your baby breast milk, the more protection it gives. Sleep studies show that breastfed infants can more easily wake up from sleep than babies that were fed formula. Breastfeeding also decreases upper and lower respiratory infections and other infectious diseases that are associated with an increased risk of SIDS.
The saying “never wake a sleeping baby” doesn’t apply when it comes to rockers and other inclined products. An infant can suffocate when sleeping at an angle, which is why new rules and laws are coming into play to try to prevent more infant sleep deaths. While parents should start seeing fewer of these items at retailers and online, they could still show up at garage sales or second-hand stores. Stay vigilant.