Readers respond to advice on unsafe baby products

Consumer Reports News: April 29, 2009 05:21 PM

For 73 years, Consumers Union has not been afraid to tackle controversial subjects. Our recent blog post “Five products not to buy for your baby” is no exception. Its aim was to highlight the unforeseen risks that certain products may pose to babies, not to give parenting advice. But clearly we struck a nerve with mothers who extol the benefits of “baby wearing” and “bed sharing”  (as The New York Times noted). We are not disputing the benefits of either.

But based on many of the comments we received on the blog posting, it’s clear that there’s a lot of misinformation being bandied about. Knowing the facts will help all parents make the best decisions for their babies.

Research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that infants younger than eight months old who are placed to sleep in adult beds are as much as 40 times more likely to suffocate than if they are placed to sleep in cribs. Even when researchers provided a more conservative estimate by eliminating all deaths from parents physically overlying an infant and then doubled the estimated number of infants who may be put to sleep in adult beds, the risk of fatality from bed sharing was still 20 times greater than that of infants who sleep in cribs. The study was published in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The practice of bed sharing with infants is increasing, but so too are the numbers of unintentional suffocations and strangulations of babies less than a year old. Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the rate of accidental strangulation and suffocation of infants increased from 2.8 to 12.5 per 100,000 live births between 1984 and 2004. Although the increase in deaths can’t be directly related to co-sleeping, the quadrupling of the infant death rate is alarming. Deaths can occur when a sleeping parent rolls over on top of a baby, when pillows or other soft bedding obstruct the baby’s breathing, when blankets or sheets get wrapped around a child’s neck, or when a child becomes wedged between the mattress and the wall. We think modern beds consisting of soft pillow-tops or memory foam mattresses may exacerbate the problem. And we don’t think that co-sleeping products make the practice much safer.

Despite the number of cribs recalled in recent years, we still strongly believe that infants are safest when put to sleep in a “bare” crib—one without any soft bedding such as quilts or bumpers and preferably a crib with stationary sides.

Blog readers also commented on sling carriers. Although they have been used for many years, centuries in fact, we believe that today there are better and safer alternatives to slings that achieve the same level of close contact. Soft front carriers such as the BabyBjorn or the Snugli provide the same benefits as slings and have a lower risk factor.

Slings can be very difficult for some people to tie, position and wear securely. Not all are intuitive and it’s easy for caregivers to get them wrong. If they do, the consequence can be dire. Many of the injuries associated with slings happen when the baby falls out of the carrier or bangs his head against a hard surface, say a door frame. There’s also a risk of positional asphyxia, which occurs when a baby is curled up in the sling and the head is pushed so far forward that the airway is closed off.

It may be possible to make sling carriers that don’t pose safety risks and that are not as easy to use incorrectly as many currently on the market. We’ll reserve our judgment until an adequate safety standard can be developed for these products.

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