Things that go bump in the night (keeping your baby’s crib safe)

Who would have thought that crib bumper pads – those soft and colorful bedding accessories for precious little ones – are more harmful than helpful and can even be deadly? A new study shows that the number of deaths and injuries attributed to bumper pads has increased significantly in recent years. This discovery has prompted researchers to call for a nationwide ban on the sale of the pads.

The findings stem from an analysis by longtime experts on the topic – Bradley Thach, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and two former researchers with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The findings indicate that in the majority of incidents studied, crib bumpers were the sole cause of harm, rebutting beliefs that other items also in the cribs — such as blankets, pillows and stuffed animals — caused the deaths and injuries.

And alarmingly, the researchers report, the lack of data gathered on crib-bumper deaths and injuries over the decades suggests that the actual number of related deaths and injuries is likely much larger than what is now known.

“Crib bumpers are killing kids,” says Dr. Bradley Thach, author of a landmark study published in 2007 that first documented crib bumper deaths. “Bumpers are more dangerous than we originally thought. The infant deaths we studied could have been prevented if the cribs had no bumpers.”

The findings are reported Nov. 24, 2015 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

According to the new research, a review of CPSC data showed that 48 infant deaths from 1985-2012 were specifically attributed to crib bumpers. An additional 146 infants were involved in crib bumper incidents from 1990-2012 in which the babies nearly suffocated, choked or were strangled.

Dr. Thach and his fellow researchers — lead author N.J. Scheers, PhD, former manager of CPSC’s Infant Suffocation Project, and Dean W. Woodard, former CPSC corrective actions director — determined that 32 of the 48 deaths they examined could have been prevented if crib bumpers had not been used in the cribs. Most of those infants died due to suffocation because their noses and mouths were covered by a bumper or were between a bumper and a crib mattress. No other objects were between the infants’ faces and the bumpers.

Originally designed to protect infants from slipping through crib slats, entangling their limbs in the gaps or bumping their heads, many parents consider bumpers necessary safety precautions. However, since 1973, federal regulations have required that crib slats be narrow enough to prevent a baby’s head from going through the slats. With new, safer cribs, bumper pads serve no purpose. It is unlikely that a baby hitting his or her head on the crib sides would result in serious injury. However, crib bumpers remain popular among expecting parents because they believe the pads are necessary.“A ban on crib bumpers would reinforce the message that no soft bedding of any kind should be placed inside a baby’s crib,” Thach said. “There is one sure-fire way to prevent infant deaths from crib bumpers: Don’t use them, ever. A naked bed is a safe bed.”