What Parents Need to Know About the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play and Safe Sleep

Infant inclined sleepers have been linked to dozens of fatalities. Here's what experts say parents can do to help babies sleep safely.

baby sleeping in crib iStock-812478628

At least 36 infant deaths have been linked to infant inclined sleep products such as the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper, the Kids II Ingenuity Moonlight Rocking Sleeper, and the Kids II Bright Starts Playtime to Bedtime Sleeper.

Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics have urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper and to investigate all other infant inclined sleep products. CR also thinks the Kids II products should be recalled.

In the meantime, exhausted parents—many of whom have relied on these kinds of inclined sleep products—are rethinking their sleep strategies.

To read the latest news on these products, see CR's ongoing coverage of infant inclined sleepers.

More on child safety

“When I read about the deaths linked to the Rock ’n Play, my heart dropped,” says Tiffany Sundelin, who thought the product was like “magic” when she used it for her fifth child, who is now 2 years old. “I am a really cautious parent and I never would have bought it if I knew there was a risk.”

But Sundelin, who lives in Seattle, says she had no idea that she was taking any risk by using the inclined sleeper because it was marketed as a safe sleep space for naps and nighttime. What’s more, she remembered that after she gave birth to each of her children, the nurses in the hospital would always put the bassinet at an incline, so she assumed that positioning was safe.

“That’s a problem even in the hospital. We still see many staff members in hospitals continuing to place things underneath the mattress to elevate the head of the bed for a variety of reasons, whether it’s reflux or sleep apnea or whatever the problem is,” says Lori Feldman-Winter, M.D., a member of the AAP Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and a professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, N.J. But she explains that putting babies to bed at an incline is not recommended except in certain medical cases. Parents who see that in the hospital may “think that’s okay and then they take that into the home setting.”

Donna Podnos, of Montclair, N.J., says that both of her sons (ages 4 months and 4 years) slept in the Rock ’n Play Sleeper and she assumed it was safe. “We’ve had such a great experience with it and are horrified to read that babies are dying in there," she says. "If I could go back, I would absolutely not use it at all, not even for naps.”

Alternative Sleep Strategies

What else can parents do to help soothe their babies to sleep? “It’s important for all parents to know that babies, for their whole first year of life, don’t have a lot of consolidated sleep, and it’s just normal that babies wake up throughout the night,” Feldman-Winter says. “Knowing that and knowing that your baby is normal and not unhealthful in terms of the baby’s growth and development, I think is just reassuring.” Parents can also try these safe sleep tips:

  • Room-share with your baby for the first 6 to 12 months, and put her in a freestanding bassinet or a sidecar bassinet next to your bed that allows you to touch and soothe her when needed. “Some babies just need to have that feeling that their loved one is nearby,” Feldman-Winter says. “We don't recommend any kind of an inclined bassinet or inclined sleeping device that rocks.”
  • Have reasonable expectations. “Newborns are nearly always more wakeful at night, and it will take at least a few weeks to flip that initial day-night confusion,” says Roy Benaroch, M.D., an associate adjunct professor of pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta. Even then, young babies will wake frequently to eat and they'll want to be held and cuddled. “Parents of newborns shouldn't expect a solid night's sleep,” he says.
  • Consider wrapping your baby in a swaddle before placing him on his back on a firm, flat surface, suggests the AAP. This helps to replicate the soothing environment of the womb. “Swaddles seem to help many babies relax and sleep better,” Benaroch says. To swaddle safely: Leave the legs and hips loose so your baby can stretch and move. “Swaddling should typically stop around two months of age because as older babies start to wiggle and move, the swaddling can impede their development and possibly be a hazard if they get entangled in the swaddling blanket,” Benaroch says.
  • Try a white noise machine, which is reminiscent of the comforting sounds babies hear in the womb. “White noise machines can be very helpful, but keep in mind that the noise shouldn’t be super-loud; you should be able to carry on a conversation easily over the noise,” Benaroch says. Also, make sure the cord is nowhere near the baby to avoid a strangulation hazard.
  • Offer your baby a pacifier. Many babies have a strong sucking reflex and find sucking on a pacifier to be soothing. Research, in fact, shows that pacifiers are safe for infants and may reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Don’t attempt to force your baby into a sleep schedule too early. “When exactly to start sleep training is a personal decision,” Benaroch says. “As babies get older and gain weight, you may nudge them towards longer stretches of sleep by not jumping to respond to every noise and movement they make.” Also, you can start putting babies down to sleep while they're still awake, so they can learn to fall asleep without your help. “Babies who consistently fall asleep while being held or rocked will have a very hard time falling back asleep on their own when they stir, unless they're picked up and rocked again,” Benaroch says.
  • Know that spitting up (aka reflux) is normal and not necessarily a medical problem. In fact, it’s often more of a laundry problem. “All babies reflux, they're supposed to reflux actually,” Feldman-Winter says. When babies breastfeed and spit up, they are actually coating their entire nasal and respiratory pathways with helpful antibodies that prevent against infection and diseases. “It’s really kind of nature’s way of protecting the baby. It’s not a condition that we're trying to eradicate.” If, however, you think your baby is having problems due to reflux (such as pain or poor weight gain), talk with your pediatrician.
  • To ease nasal congestion, try a few drops of nasal saline to rinse out your baby’s nose, or use an aspirator to clear the mucus. “Nasal congestion is very common in babies. Their noses are small and young babies can't blow their nose or do a good sniff to clear out the mucus,” says Benaroch. Using the aspirator “might sound kind of icky, but devices like that work well and are safe.”

Rachel Rabkin Peachman

I'm a science journalist turned investigative reporter on CR's Special Projects team. My job is to shed light on issues affecting people's health, safety, and well-being. I've dug deep into problems such as dangerous doctors, deadly children's products, and contamination in our food supply. Got a tip? Follow me on Twitter (@RachelPeachman).