Baby Sleep Positioners Deemed Dangerous by CPSC

Federal officials from two agencies are warning that “baby sleep positioners,” mat- or wedge-shaped bolsters that are supposed to encourage babies to sleep on their backs, are actually quite dangerous and are responsible for at least 13 deaths in the past 15 years. The New York Times has more:

“We urge parents and caregivers to take our warning seriously and stop using these sleep positioners,” Inez Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a statement.

The sleep positioner devices come primarily in two forms. One is a flat mat with soft bolsters on each side. The other, known as a wedge-style positioner, looks very similar but has an incline, keeping a child in a very slight upright position.

Makers of the devices claim that by keeping infants in a specific position as they sleep, they can prevent several conditions, including acid reflux and flat head syndrome, a deformation caused by pressure on one part of the skull. Many are also marketed to parents as a way to help reduce a child’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, which kills thousands of babies every year, most between the ages of 2 months and 4 months.

But the devices have never been shown in studies to prevent SIDS, and they may actually raise the likelihood of sudden infant death, officials say. One of the leading risk factors for sudden infant death is placing a baby on his or her stomach at bedtime, and health officials have routinely warned parents to lay babies on their backs. They even initiated a “Back to Sleep” campaign in the 1990s, which led to a sharp reduction in sudden infant deaths.

With the positioner devices, if an infant rolls onto the stomach, the child’s mouth and nose can press up against a bolster or some other part of the device, leading to suffocation. Even if placed on the back, a child can move up or down in the positioner, “entrapping its face against a bolster or becoming trapped between the positioner and the crib side,” Gail Gantt, a nurse consultant with the Food and Drug Administration, said in an e-mail. Or the child might scoot down the wedge in a way that causes the child’s mouth and nose to press into the device.

Image: Sleeping baby, via Shutterstock

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  1. by Kathryn Packard

    On November 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I haven’t done any research on sleep positioners, but 13 deaths in 15 years is news? How many deaths per year do OBs cause with unneccessary inductions, c-sections, and other interventions? There’s a reason that neonatal and infant mortality rates in the US are on the level (or lower!) than those of third world countries. If sleep positioners cause deaths, then they should most certainly be taken off of the market. But it seems analogous to focusing on how many people are killed by lightening each year compared to car accidents.

  2. by Randesha Williams

    On November 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Kathryn your comment was very ignorant! This a parenting website so what do you expect they talk about? This is helpful news and am glad they mentioned this for new mothers. One death is one too many if you can prevent it!

  3. by K. Otto

    On November 28, 2012 at 11:54 am

    But this is news because these are items that parents have been encouraged to use – and now they are finding that almost one death per year has been linked to their use.

  4. by Tim

    On November 29, 2012 at 8:57 am

    There is no mention here of how many of these devices are actually in use. This would be helpful to help parents make their own decisions about the risk factor here. Are there any studies that indicate the positive outcomes of using such a device?

    I think alot of patenting decisions these days are made based on perceived risk rather than actual risk. I mean we put our children in cars to drive them home from the hospital. I wonder how many new born babies die in cars each year?

    I agree the Kathryn on this. There are far greater actual risk items in a baby’s life that go unchecked. In comparison this small item seems kinda innocent.

  5. by Hillary

    On December 17, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Seriously – I agree with Kathryn. What about the 400 babies that die from circumcision each year. 1 death per year is nothing when you compare the other risks. And hey, the AAP is encouraging circumcision now! Post an article on how that kills so many babies each year. Not on a sleep positioner that *maybe* killed one.