A woman nursing a baby on a nursing pillow.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission today warned parents and caregivers to never let infants sleep on nursing pillows or other pillowlike products, such as lounging pads. These products pose a suffocation hazard for babies. The agency announced that it is investigating deaths associated with these products “when children are left on or near pillows, and the child rolls over, rolls off, or falls asleep.”

The warning applies to all nursing pillows and baby loungers, which are made by companies such as Boppy, Blessed Nest, Ergobaby, Leachco, Luna Lullaby, and Zenoff Products (maker of My Brest Friend). They are sold at major retailers such as Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Buy Buy Baby, Pottery Barn Kids, and Target. Nursing pillows are meant to make breastfeeding easier; lounging pads are for babies to sit or lie on. Both are designed for babies to use while awake and supervised.

Consumer Reports analyzed data from the CPSC, including from its SaferProducts.gov public database of incidents, and found at least 28 infant deaths from 2012 to 2018 tied to nursing pillows and baby loungers.

Many of the reports were among data that the CPSC sent to CR in 2019, which mistakenly contained manufacturer and brand names. Normally, because of a controversial law unique to the agency, the CPSC redacts company information from those reports. This disclosure led to an ongoing investigation by CR into the dangers of inclined sleepers and other infant sleep products, which prompted the recall of at least 5.6 million inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper.

More On Infant Sleep Safety

While nursing pillows and lounging pads are not intended for sleep, reports in the CPSC data show that caregivers sometimes use the products for that purpose, which can lead to suffocation in several ways. Babies may roll over onto their sides or stomachs and turn their heads into the soft fabric, blocking airflow. Or, when babies are propped up on an incline against the pillow or lounger, their heads can fall forward, blocking their airway.

“While nursing pillows may help moms and babies breastfeed more easily, they clearly represent a danger with regard to sleep,” says Ben Hoffman, MD, a pediatrician and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. That’s why the AAP says infants should sleep alone, unrestrained, on their backs on a firm, flat surface that is free of soft padding and bedding.

But that messaging, it seems, is lost in many cases. Specific instances from the CPSC’s dataset show that babies are being placed on these pillows to sleep. For example, one incident describes a 2-month-old boy in New Jersey who died after being placed in a crib with a nursing pillow. The “autopsy report notes that positional asphyxia was possible cause of death due to the baby pillow.” 

“Positional asphyxia” was also cited as the cause of death for a 3-month-old boy in Florida who had been placed in a bassinet on top of one of the pillows. His “mother returned about 15 minutes later and found the infant had turned face down into the pillow,” and suffocated, according to the report.

The data also included the incident of an almost 3-month-old girl in Oregon, a triplet, who “was propped up in a baby pillow at home when she passed away during the night,” according to the report. “She was found face down on the pillow. The cause of death as determined by the medical examiner was positional asphyxia.”

One fatality reported on SaferProducts.gov describes a “5-month-old infant positioned in a Boppy (a semicircular pillow) on a bed for a nap. Sixty to 90 minutes later, infant found in a prone position rather than on her side as initially positioned, unresponsive and not breathing.”

In response to those reports and the CPSC warning, Amy St. Germain, vice president for marketing at Boppy, a leader in the category, told CR: “There are no words to express the grief we share with any parent who has lost a baby. We applaud and support the ongoing CPSC work, which aligns with our own long-standing efforts to warn and educate parents about safe sleep.” She emphasized that the company’s marketing, packaging, and labels expressly warn against using Boppy products for infant sleep and that the products are meant to support breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and supervised awake time, not sleep. 

CR has reached out to other makers of nursing pillows and loungers for comment.

The CPSC release notes that the agency is investigating the entire class of products and is not issuing a warning with regard to any specific brand at this time. 

“This is an essential warning about nursing pillows and baby loungers,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at CR. “It’s rare for federal safety officials to make a public statement like this in the middle of an investigation. We commend the CPSC for alerting parents and caregivers to the danger while it works to get to the bottom of the issue.”

Wallace says that federal law makes it extremely difficult for the CPSC to notify the public about specific product safety hazards prior to a recall, which has contributed to damaging delays and to dozens of infant deaths linked to Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleepers remaining hidden for years.

“Today’s announcement is a step forward for transparency, but it’s critical for Congress to take action, too,” Wallace says. “The CPSC must be able to warn the public much more quickly and in much more specific terms when it knows a product puts people at risk of getting hurt or killed.”

The government announcement today comes as the CPSC is reevaluating standards for infant sleep products. The agency stated in its release that “each year, almost a thousand infants tragically suffocate in their sleep.” The agency has long been concerned with infant deaths related to consumer products including inclined sleepers and padded crib bumpers.

The CPSC proposed a rule last year that would ban all infant inclined sleepers and require that all products marketed for infant sleep conform to one of the current mandated standards for sleep-related products—cribs, bassinets, play yards, or bedside sleepers. A task group convened through ASTM International (a standards-setting organization) is also set to meet to discuss safety standards for infant sleepers this week.

“Pillows, inclined sleepers, and other products that don’t meet the standards are, frankly, dangerous and should never be a place where babies sleep,” says the AAP’s Hoffman.

Like the AAP, CR’s safety experts recommend that babies be put to bed only in products that meet federal safety requirements for infant sleep, such as a bassinet, bedside sleeper, crib, or play yard. If caregivers are having trouble with infant sleep, the best bet is to ask their pediatricians for help.

If you have had an incident with a pillowlike product or any other product, you can report it to the CPSC at SaferProducts.gov.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include manufacturer comments.