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13 dangerous baby products to avoid

Find out what to buy instead to keep your child safe

ShopSmart: June 2012

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When you’re shopping for kid stuff, you might assume that everything for sale in those baby stores is safe. The products are made for children, after all—and they must be government-regulated, right? Not necessarily.

Some widely sold baby products have been associated with injuries and even deaths. In fact, 40 percent of all recalls last year were for kids’ products. So before you buy anything (or accept hand-me-downs), check our guide to learn which products are hazardous and find out what the safe alternatives are.

Drop-side cribs

Unsafe bedding
1. Drop-side cribs. 2. Bumpers. 3. Sleep positioners. 4. Blankets and pillows.
Illustration: A. Richard Allen

Why they’re dangerous: The moveable drop side can drop, suffocating or strangling a baby. The cribs were associated with at least 32 deaths since 2000, plus hundreds of other reported incidents, before they were banned by the CPSC in 2011 (before that, millions were recalled).

What to use instead: A new crib with fixed sides and a simple design (infants can strangle if clothing gets caught on fancy embellishments). Tough crib standards went into effect with the drop-side ban, so look for a model made after June 2011. If you already own a crib that has a drop side, you can immobilize it with included hardware or call the manufacturer and ask for a kit. But don’t use any crib more than 10 years old because there have been many other safety improvements in the past decade.

Bumpers

Why they’re dangerous: Bumpers are designed to keep a baby from hitting her head on crib slats. But they’re a suffocation hazard and may be linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that 27 children from 1 month to 2 years old died from suffocating or strangling related to bumpers between 1985 and 2005. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents not use crib bumpers, including so-called breathable models.

What to use instead: Nothing. Our safety experts recommend a bare crib with just a fitted sheet. (See “Sleep positioners” and “Blankets and pillows,” below.)

Sleep positioners

Why they’re dangerous: These are used to keep a baby from rolling onto her stomach, or to elevate her head and back to avoid acid reflux. But babies can suffocate if they put their faces against a sleep positioner or if they slip free and roll into crib bedding. The CPSC cites 13 deaths over the past 13 years. Along with the Food and Drug Administration, the CPSC has called for a ban on antireflux wedges, but the products are still available.

What to use instead: The AAP recommends that infants be placed on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS. If your baby has reflux or congestion, talk to your pediatrician.

Blankets and pillows

Why they’re dangerous: A baby can become tangled in a blanket and suffocate, or be smothered by a pillow. Most of the 92 deaths in bassinets, cradles, and play yards reported between 2006 and 2008 were from suffocating with pillows or extra bedding. Adult bedding can smother little ones, too, and children have died when parents have rolled onto them in a “family bed,” so our experts don’t recommend co-sleeping with children.

What to use instead: Keep your baby comfortable in her bare crib by dressing her in a sleep sack or footed pajamas. If you receive a cute blanket as a gift, hang it on a wall or use it for tummy time.

Crib tents

Illustration: A. Richard Allen

Why they’re dangerous: The dome-shaped or drape-style tents are intended to keep a baby from climbing out of cribs and play yards. But babies can get wrapped up in the fabric and strangle.

What to use instead: If your little one is climbing out of her crib, it is time for a toddler bed, which looks like a regular bed but uses a crib mattress.

Bedside sleepers

Why they’re dangerous: Also called co-sleepers, these allow infants to sleep near their mother for nursing, but the CPSC hasn’t established safety regulations for them. Also, the AAP didn’t add them to its list of recommended places for a baby to sleep, and our safety experts don’t recommend them, or co-sleeping in general, due to the risk of suffocation. And again, children have died from sleeping parents rolling onto them.

What to use instead: A full-sized crib with fixed sides.

Changing tables with fewer than four sides

Why they’re dangerous: A child could fall to the floor. The CPSC estimates that in 2009 about 4,500 children younger than age 5 were injured in incidents related to changing tables.

What to use instead: The latest voluntary safety standards require any changing table with a flat surface to have barriers on all four sides. A safety strap for securing your baby is a bonus. Another safe option is to use a changing pad on the floor. Additional safety tips: Always stand to your baby’s side when you change her, always keep one hand on her, and never step away. At age 2, kids are probably too big for changing tables.

Unsecured furniture

Why it’s dangerous: Toppling furniture can kill a child in an instant. Between 2000 and 2008, the CPSC received reports of almost 200 child deaths related to furniture tip-overs, almost all of them (93 percent) involving children 5 and younger. Another 16,000 kids 5 and younger were treated in emergency rooms because they were injured by falling furniture, TVs, or other appliances, according to the CPSC’s most recent data.

What to use instead: No, you don’t have to buy new furniture; simply secure yours to the wall with straps. Just be sure to install them properly (screw fasteners into studs or wood framing inside the walls). You can buy antitip straps or brackets starting around $7 at home-improvement retailers.

Sling carriers

Illustration: A. Richard Allen

Why they’re dangerous: Carrying your baby in front of your body keeps her close, but over the past 20 years, there have been at least 14 deaths associated with sling-type front baby carriers. There have also been dozens of injuries, including skull fractures, head injuries, and contusions and abrasions. Most occurred when the child fell out of the sling. Recalls of specific models in recent years (some because of death or serious injury) have prompted ASTM International to develop a new standard for slings, one that we feel is not stringent enough. The CPSC has also documented a risk of death from “positional asphyxia,” or suffocation, particularly in infants younger than 4 months. The risk is that a small infant’s head could bend forward or her face could press against the adult’s body, both of which can block the baby’s airway and cause suffocation.

What to use instead: Strollers, handheld baby carriers or car seats, and some strap-on carriers. Soft front-carriers and backpack carriers are covered by safety standards developed by ASTM International; we think those standards are adequate. Safety tip: Practice using any carrier before putting the baby in.

Walkers

Why they’re dangerous: They can help a baby stand and walk before she can do it on her own. But walkers also allow your baby to scoot into danger and maybe even fall down stairs. The CPSC estimates that 4,000 children younger than 5 suffered injuries related to baby walkers, jumpers, and stationary exercisers in 2010 (the government agency does not separate those items in its data), and four deaths between 2006 and 2008. The AAP urges parents not to use baby walkers and has recommended that the U.S. government ban them. (They’re now prohibited in Canada.) Even walkers that meet existing safety criteria are not safe. For example, rubber friction “safety” strips, meant to function as a brake to stop the walker if its front wheels go over the edge of a step, do not always work and might wear out or come loose.

What to use instead: A stationary or “walk around” activity center, which lets your child stand or move safely in a circle on a secure base.

Infant bath seats

Illustration: A. Richard Allen

Why they’re dangerous: They’re designed to help a child sit upright in a bathtub but they give parents a false sense of security. Bath seats can tip over and babies can fall into the water and drown. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 174 deaths and 300 incidents between 1983 and 2009. Many involved babies who were left unattended. In 2010 the CPSC issued a new federal safety standard for the seats, strengthening the voluntary standard developed by the industry experts at ASTM International. But we still don’t recommend them.

What to use instead: A hard plastic baby bathtub. Never leave your baby unattended or turn your back. Keep one hand on the baby at all times.

Bumbo seats

Illustration: A. Richard Allen

Why they’re dangerous: These cute and colorful chairs are used to help younger babies sit upright, but infants can fall from Bumbo baby seats by arching, leaning, or rocking themselves, the CPSC warned in a November 2011 safety alert. The alert cited at least 45 incidents involving infants falling out of seats that were placed on tables, countertops, or adult-sized chairs. Of them, 17 babies younger than 1 year wound up with skull fractures from their falls.

What to use instead: A bouncer seat or stationary activity center. Never place on a table, counter, or bed with your child in it. The seat could tip over.

Safe products that can be used unsafely

Products like jogging stollers and safety gates are safe as long as you use them correctly. Here are tips from our safety experts. To find out about product recalls, you can also check www.cpsc.gov (for baby products of all kinds) and www.nhtsa.gov (for car seats).

Product

Potential problem(s)

Safe solution

Baby monitor with cord

 

This device helps you keep an ear and eye on your baby, and having a power cord to plug in helps save on batteries. But infants have strangled on the cords when monitors were placed in their crib or within arm’s reach of it.

 

Keep the baby monitor and cord well out of your baby’s reach. Same for cords on window blinds, curtains, and shades.

Humidifier and vaporizer

 

 

This appliance can get dangerously hot. So avoid using a warm-mist humidifier or vaporizers in children’s rooms. The hot steam can easily cause burns, and some of the surfaces

Try a cool-mist humidifier and remove it from the room when it’s not in use so that children can’t spill the water or play with the power cord, risking electrocution.

Jogging stroller

Some manufacturers suggest that a child as young as a few months can ride in a jogging stroller, but our medical consultants think a baby should be at least 1 year old before you take her jogging. A young infant who can’t hold her head up risks asphyxia if she’s not properly reclined—her head could fall forward, restricting her breathing. Our consultants also warn that all that jostling isn’t good for an infant and that you or your child could fall.

 

Get a sitter and go for solo runs, or go for brisk walks with the baby in a stroller that lets him lie on his back or in an inserted infant car seat.

Safety gate

 

A pressure-mounted safety gate can help keep your little one from going up the stairs but isn’t strong enough to keep him from falling down.

 

Use a hardware-mounted model at the top of stairs, indoors or out. And remember, no gate is a substitute for careful supervision of your baby or toddler.

Unfastened harnesses on car seats, strollers, high chairs, and other products

Babies have been injured or killed when their harness was not fastened securely and they fell, sometimes from a height of several feet.

 

Always fasten the harness on any baby product that has one, and keep it fastened until the second you’re ready to remove the baby from the product. Some high chairs, bouncers, swings, and other baby items come in different models, allowing parents to choose between a three-point and a five-point harness. Always opt for a model with a five-point harness; they’re much safer.

 

Safety tip

When you buy a new baby product, fill out and mail in the registration card, or complete it online. The company will use it to notify you about safety issues.
   

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