Unsafe Sleep Products to Keep Out of the Crib
New parents will do just about anything to encourage their babies to sleep soundly. And while you might be tempted to surround them with cozy blankets and stuffed animals, placing any product inside a baby's crib can actually create an unsafe sleeping condition.
"Babies are safest when they are asleep on their back, in their own safe sleep space (crib or bassinet) without any toys, blankets, or pillows," says Elizabeth Murray, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester. That's because babies can roll onto or into an object and not be able to roll back off—a serious suffocation risk.
Even products that claim to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) should be avoided, according to experts. "Honestly, if there was a product out there that could reduce SIDS, pediatricians would be singing its praises," Dr. Murray says. The sad truth is that SIDS deaths don't always have an explanation, and sometimes, they happen when parents do everything correctly. That said, Dr. Murray notes, "Unsafe sleep deaths are almost completely preventable."
Here are seven unsafe sleep products to keep out of your baby's crib to prevent blocked airflow, which could lead to suffocation and SIDS.
1. Loose Sheets or Blankets
While a clean, tightly fitted sheet is totally fine to put on a crib or bassinet mattress, any loose sheets or blankets should be avoided. "Newborns and young infants can suffocate even with a simple sheet being placed over their face," Dr. Murray says. "Combine this with their lack of head control and consistent ability to control their hands and roll, and you can see why objects in the crib could be dangerous." Instead, choose a wearable blanket or sleep sack to keep them toasty.
In general, babies don't need pillows to sleep, and they do nothing more than present a suffocation hazard. "As they become a toddler but are still in a crib, you can add a small pillow or blanket if needed, but honestly, most don't need them until they move into a bed," Dr. Murray says.
3. Stuffed Animals or Toys
Those fluffy stuffed animals may look sweet, but they can be a very real danger to your baby if kept in their crib. Stash the stuffed animals somewhere else, and don't put them into the crib until your little one has full control of their head and body. "As they approach one year old and can fully roll and pull to a stand, a small stuffed animal or lovey is likely safe," Dr. Murray says. Pacifiers are safe for infants in a crib at any age, but skip the ones with stuffed animals attached unless their sleep is being closely monitored.
4. Crib Tents
Crib tents can keep your little one secure in their crib while warding off unwanted visitors (like pets or insects). But while they're sometimes promoted as safety devices, they're not helpful or necessary for young babies, who might become dangerously entangled in the product. Infant deaths and injuries have been attributed to crib tents.
5. Crib Bumpers
Crib bumpers are fabric pads designed to line the inside of Baby's crib. These widely available products claim to protect your little one from knocking into the hard side of the crib or slipping through the slats. But the thing is, modern cribs are designed with tighter slats in order to avoid that very thing. Furthermore, crib bumpers are actually illegal in some states due to their proven suffocation risk. "We know that babies do not get hurt by the railings of a crib and so crib bumpers are just not necessary," Dr. Murray says.
6. Sleep Positioners and Wedges
Often promoted as "anti-roll" products that sometimes even claim to reduce the risk of SIDS or reflux, sleep positioners have been flatly rejected by experts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration puts it bluntly: "Do not use infant sleep positioners due to the risk of suffocation." Tragically, babies have died after rolling over while using these products; their heads can become trapped in the soft fabric. The FDA has never cleared a sleep positioner claiming to prevent SIDS.
7. Bedside Sleepers
A bedside sleeper is a bassinet with a retractable side designed to sit right beside your own bed, allowing for easy access during nighttime feedings. If they truly represent their own sleep space —meaning adult covers cannot accidentally cover the infant—they may be OK, Murray says. Still, she notes, "They likely offer little additional benefit in ease of caring for your baby over a bassinet next to the parent's bed. This is important as we know bassinets are safe for young infants." Infants have become entrapped between adult bed and the sleeper; some have also suffocated when parents or bedding rolled onto them.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to your baby's sleep environment, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Heed this advice from the AAP: "Keep soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation out of the baby's sleep area. These include pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, blankets, toys, bumper pads, or similar products that attach to crib slats or sides." In addition, "wedges, positioners, special mattresses, and specialized sleep surfaces have not been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS."