A crib with a padded bumper.
Doctors and CR discourage using padded bumpers and loose bedding (shown here), which increase the risk of infant death.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to move forward with a proposed federal safety rule that would prohibit the sale of padded crib bumpers that fail to meet airflow requirements, according to an announcement made by the safety agency yesterday.

The proposed ban, which safety advocates say is years overdue, was voted through by all four CPSC commissioners in an effort to protect infants from the risk of suffocation and other deadly hazards linked to padded bumpers. The CPSC also proposed that crib liners, which are thin pieces of fabric attached to the crib slats, must meet specific requirements that would be part of a new mandatory safety standard.

Currently, crib bumpers are subject only to voluntary industry standards, and manufacturers are not required by the government to test their safety before putting them on the market.

Medical experts have long discouraged the use of crib bumpers because they increase the risk of sudden unexpected infant death. “For years the American Academy of Pediatrics has told caregivers not to use padded crib bumpers, which have been tied to dozens of infant fatalities,” says Ben Hoffman, M.D., chairman of the AAP’s Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

More On Sleep Safety

Crib bumpers go counter to a key aspect of the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations, which state that babies should sleep on their backs, alone, unrestrained, on a firm, flat surface that is free of loose bedding and bumpers.

But bumpers have remained on the market, advertised as a nursery accessory and safety product geared toward preventing babies from getting their arms and legs stuck between crib slats. Research shows, however, that padded crib bumpers offer no protection from serious injury.

“Contrary to popular belief, bumpers do not serve any safety purpose and are an unnecessary product designed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Hoffman says. “I am ecstatic to hear that these products are one step closer to being removed from the market because it is going to have a positive impact on children.”

Oriene Shin, policy counsel for home and product safety at Consumer Reports, says that “the presence of crib bumpers on the market could lead parents to unwittingly put their baby at risk, so we commend the CPSC for taking this step.”

A spokesperson for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, told CR that it also applauds the CPSC’s action and that “the majority of crib bumpers available on the market today should already meet the updated rule.”

Crib Bumper Confusion

“The availability of padded crib bumpers on store shelves and online for years has confused parents into thinking the products are safe and perhaps even a safety item, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, a safety organization focused on reducing product-related deaths in children. “Bumpers have no place in a safe sleep environment.”

A few states and localities have already banned padded crib bumpers, including Maryland, New York, Ohio, and the city of Chicago. While each law is different, these bans generally continue to allow the sale of mesh crib liners.

The CPSC staff, however, has been divided for decades over whether or not the agency should regulate crib bumpers at the federal level, and if so, what regulations should be put in place, even as deaths linked to the products mounted.

N.J. Scheers, Ph.D., a former manager of the CPSC’s Infant Suffocation Project, has warned about the dangers of crib bumpers. She has done extensive research into infant sleep deaths, and co-authored groundbreaking studies on bumper-related injuries and fatalities along with Bradley T. Thach, M.D., a professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“It’s been more than 12 years since Brad Thach wrote his first article,” says Scheers, referencing Thach’s 2007 landmark study that found that crib bumpers can cause suffocation and strangulation when babies turn their faces into the soft padding or become entangled in the bumper’s ties. “And there have been many needless deaths in those 12 years. Crib bumper fatalities are entirely preventable, and it’s really upsetting to think about these babies that didn’t have to die.”

Scheers acknowledges that the manner in which infant sleep deaths are classified in various datasets has made it difficult to pin down the exact number of fatalities caused by crib bumpers. But her 2016 study found there were at least 77 bumper-related deaths between 1985 and October 2012.

“There is no code for ‘crib bumpers’ on death certificates, so many of the sleep-related deaths linked to bumpers are not reported, and we know the numbers we have are the tip of the iceberg,” Scheers says. “It seems to me that there is more than enough information to determine that padded bumpers cause infant deaths, and while we’re waiting for more research, babies are dying.”

New Regulations

Today’s announcement, however, signals a turning point at the CPSC. “The agency has struggled for years with infant sleep deaths, which are often so difficult to understand,” says CPSC acting chairman Robert Adler. “We finally felt that the public health evidence—which indicated real problems with the breathability of padded crib bumpers—was simply overwhelming.”

What comes next: Now that the CPSC commissioners have all voted in favor of this proposal, it will be open for public comment to consumers, companies, and safety experts, among others. The comments will be assessed, and ultimately, the agency will issue a final mandatory standard for crib liners and will require all padded bumpers be pulled from the market.

The rulemaking process is likely to take at least a year.

While the proposal still allows thin crib liners, and Nancy Cowles at KID “would like to see a total ban of all of these kinds of products for the crib, padded and not padded,” she and other safety advocates see this proposed rule as a major win for child safety. “With this vote, the CPSC is finally beginning the process of getting padded bumpers off store shelves and out of homes.”