Sleep Positioners For Infants Might Actually Be Death Traps

I wish I could do parents everywhere a huge favor and answer the question, “precisely how long can I leave my infant alone without the fear of becoming the fodder of some tragic parenting story?” Alas, I cannot. It seems like everyday a new study shows how some trusted baby gear is killing children. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – motherhood is terrifying.

First it was crib bumpers. Then it was travel beds. Now there’s new news to add to our increasing infant sleep paranoia. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns against using sleep positioners. Sleep positioners have been linked to at least 13 deaths in the last 15 years. In a statement to The New York Times, the F.D.A. claims the commission  has also received dozens of reports of babies who were placed on their sides or backs, ”only to be found later in hazardous positions within or next to the product.”

We considered using one of these for our first child. It seemed like a safe alternative to co-sleeping. The product is advertised as being safer for babies than co-sleeping alone, because it anchors the baby into position, and prevents parents from rolling over onto the infant in their sleep. Many of the positioners are marketed to parents as a way to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome – or SIDS – which sadly still kills about 2,500 infants a year in this country.

But not only have the devices never been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS, they may also raise the risk. From The New York Times report:

One of the leading risk factors for sudden infant death is placing a baby on his or her stomach at bedtime, and health officials have routinely warned parents to lay babies on their backs.

With the positioner devices, if an infant rolls onto the stomach, the child’s mouth and nose can press up against a bolster or some other part of the device, leading to suffocation. Even if placed on the back, a child can move up or down in the positioner, ”entrapping its face against a bolster or becoming trapped between the positioner and the crib side,” Gail Gantt, a nurse consultant with the Food and Drug Administration, said in an e-mail.

So, what seemed to be a good idea – really isn’t. It’s hard trying to decipher all of this when you are a new parent. The crib bumper seemed like a good idea to me, because it would prevent little limbs from going through the slats and possibly being twisted or hurt.  I was wrong about that. Although I never bought one, the sleep positioner seemed like a good idea because it just looked like a safe co-sleeping alternative. Wrong again. I think it’s time we give into putting our infants in totally bare cribs once and for all. With all of this information – I know my newborn will be going in one. Then we can just obsessively check on them every five minutes to make sure they’re breathing – a ritual all parents have participated in since the beginning of time.


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