Family Matters

Cribs, Presumed Safe, Injure 26 Children Every Day

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It’s probably not sheer coincidence that a crib resembles a jail cell. After all, parents need a super-secure place to tuck baby and go do what they need to do — shower, for example, or sleep. But now a new study published online today in the journal Pediatrics finds that cribs are not the safe havens we assume they are.

Every day, 26 U.S. babies and toddlers are hurt in cribs, playpens and bassinets. That amounts to 9,500 injured kids every year, not to mention the 100 or so annual deaths that researchers identified in the 19-year period they examined. (More on Are Crib Bumpers a Nursery Necessity? CPSC Vets their Safety Record)

Sound scary? The reality is even worse, says Gary Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

“Cribs are unique among other children’s products,” says Smith. “Parents expect to be able to place a child in a crib and know when they walk away that child will be safe. We need to hold cribs to much higher safety standards as opposed to baby equipment you are supposed to only use with parental supervision.”

The study looked at the number of injuries in children under the age of 2 who were treated in hospital emergency departments for crib-related injuries between 1990 and 2008, relying on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. But many children are treated in doctor’s offices or urgent-care clinics; those cases are not included in the study. (More on Time.comBye-Bye, Baby: Why Selling Your Crib Hurts)

Regulating cribs is not new for the CPSC; the agency has been at it since the 1970s, when it first announced safety standards to protect children from poorly constructed cribs that could result in strangulation, suffocation and falls.

Still, children under 5 suffered more than 14,500 crib-related injuries in 2009.

Research and news reports have zeroed in on crib deaths and the reasons for them, including fluffy bedding, strangulation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But not much attention has been paid to injuries linked to cribs.

Smith says the study should be considered a “call to action” to the public and crib manufacturers to brainstorm how to make cribs safer. Already, since 2007, the CPSC has recalled more than 9 million cribs due to safety hazards. In June, a ban on drop-side cribs will take effect. (More on Time.comBaby Asleep in a Drop-Side Crib? Soon They’ll Be Banned)

Of the nearly 182,000 children hurt in cribs during the study period, two-thirds were injured due to a fall. Not surprisingly, as babies grew increasingly mobile, the proportion of injuries from falls increased. “This is telling us that coming up with designs that help anticipate that is the way we need to go,” says Smith.

That could take the form of taller crib rails or other fixes. (In any case, parents should drop the height of the crib mattress to its lowest level once baby pulls to a stand. And by 35 inches, it’s time to boot that baby to a big-kid bed.) “Crib designs haven’t really changed in the past two decades, but now they will have to,” says Smith.

Babies of the future may indeed be confined to cribs that look even more like jail cells. If that’s the case, there may be a booming market for black-and-white onesies.