All About Babies

Alarming Study Shows Infant Deaths from Crib Bumpers Are on the Rise

An unsettling new study on baby sleep safety has found more evidence that crib bumpers can be dangerous and even fatal. Experts are continuing to urge parents to keep them out of their child's sleeping area.

baby sleeping on back in crib Shutterstock
Bumpers may be cute and snuggly and help baby's crib look slightly less jail cell-ish, but they also make very dangerous bedfellows. This is a pretty well-established fact: For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged us to bypass bumpers because they put baby at an increased risk of suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment.

Still, the dire warnings haven't been enough to stop some parents from installing them in the crib anyway. According to a disturbing new study published today in the journal Pediatrics, there has been a recent uptick in bumper-related infant deaths. Between 2006 and 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of 23 fatalities caused by bumpers. To put that into perspective, the figure is three times higher than the average number of deaths that occurred in each of the three previous seven-year time periods. Worse, researchers believe the actual number of fatalities is "much larger," since there's not a whole lot of long-term information about bumper-related deaths and injuries.

The experts also discovered that significantly more babies were injured after sleeping in cribs with bumpers. Between 1985-2012, the bedding accessory nearly suffocated, choked, or strangled some 146 babies. (Blame such factors as a lack of or detached bumper ties, loose stuffing, or frayed ribbons.)

How to Create a Safe Crib

"Crib bumpers are killing kids," confirms Bradley T. Thach, M.D., professor emeritus of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and senior author of the study. (His 2007 study was the first to document bumper-related deaths.) "Bumpers are more dangerous than we originally thought. The infant deaths we studied could have been prevented if the cribs were empty."

To that end, Dr. Thach and two former CPSC researchers are advocating for an all-out ban on the sale of this pillowy bedding. Already, bumpers are outlawed in Maryland and Chicago, and groups such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the AAP are also against them. But in order for a nationwide ban to happen, the CPSC would need to be the ones to institute it. The hitch, say researchers? The division that would make the call is strapped for resources and has other, more pressing priorities at the moment. The federal government has gone so far as to offer a recommended thickness for bumpers, but it's a voluntary standard.

But we parents can take steps to ensure our baby's safe sleep. Chief among them: Skip the cute-but-unsafe bumpers (and pillows, toys, and soft bedding), and encourage our friends and family to do the same. "Crib bumpers," says Dr. Thach, "serve no purpose."

Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.