Becoming a parent for the first time means lots of new unknowns – from learning to breastfeed and swaddle to buckling them into the car seat for the first time. But when it comes to putting them to bed safely, it’s important to remember it really can mean life or death.
It’s something we’re taught before our little one is even here: the correct way to put your baby to bed safely. Sadly though, the number of infant deaths continues to climb.
The main culprit continues to be all the items parents leave in the crib with their babies. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 700 infants – under 12 months of age – died between 1992 and 2010 from soft objects in the sleep environment.
“The best advice is ‘bare is best.’ Keep your infant’s sleep space clutter free – no blankets, bumpers, toys or pillows,” says Elaine Cudnik, APRN.
Using CPSC data, a study recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics highlights how dangerous crib bumpers in particular can be – pointing to 23 deaths between 2006 and 2012 tied to this crib accessory. That is three times higher than the long-running average of eight deaths over a span of seven years.
Taking a broader look at the numbers, researchers found the majority of crib bumper deaths in a 27-year span could have been prevented if crib bumpers weren’t used. And in an additional 146 cases, babies were nearly suffocated, choked or strangled by bumpers.
Experts Advise: Don’t Use Crib Bumpers
In most cases, the babies suffocated after their noses and mouths became covered by the bumper or got stuck between a bumper and crib mattress. “Crib bumpers are dangerous because they pose a risk of suffocation for your infant,” says Elaine. “If an infant rolls into a crib bumper and this results in covering of the infant’s nose and/or mouth, this can lead to suffocation.”
These new numbers are prompting renewed calls for a nationwide ban on crib bumpers – and a harsh reminder that all other bedding can also be a danger to infants. Over the years, a number of health organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – have recommended against the use of crib bumpers. Both the state of Maryland and city of Chicago have banned them – but there are still no federal regulations surrounding their sale.
Many parents and grandparents believe crib bumpers actually help prevent injury – reducing the risk of a baby’s limbs getting stuck between the slats on the crib. But experts say the risk of limb injury is very low, and the suffocation risk is simply too high. “Once your baby is mobile enough to get stuck in the crib slats, they are also generally mobile enough to get out,” explains Elaine. “The risk of injury to an infant getting stuck in crib slats in very, very low. Approved infant cribs, without the drop side, have slats that are specifically spaced to prevent infant injury and entrapment.”
Recently, retailers have started marketing thin bumpers and mesh bumpers as safer alternatives, but this study shows deaths were still caused by this style of bumper. “There really is no ‘safe alternative,’” warns Elaine. “The best thing is for your infant to sleep on a firm mattress, free of clutter. This means no blankets, stuffed animals or pillows.”
Follow the ABCs for Safe Sleep
Elaine recommends A-B-C as an easy way to remember how to put your little one to bed safely.
A: Alone. Again, no blankets, toys or pillows. “We do recommend using a sleep sack as a blanket alternative,” explains Elaine. “It prevents the risk of suffocation and keeps your baby warm.”
B: Back. The slogan “back is best” is another good reminder. Keeping your baby on their back until they’re old enough to rollover helps reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
C: Crib. It is best to have your baby sleep alone in their crib. While co-sleeping may be enticing, especially after a late night feed, it increases the risks of possible suffocation. However “having your child in your room, in their own crib or bassinet, is protective for SIDS,” Elaine says. “In fact, we think co-rooming reduces SIDS risk by almost 50 percent.” Co-rooming allows parents to keep new babies in close reach and helps parents oversee their baby’s sleep, just in case something happens.
Keep in mind, the greatest risk for suffocation happens when babies are under 1 year of age, so it’s best to save the toys, blankets and pillows for their “big kid bed” — or around 18 months old.