Family Matters

Why Parents Should Stop Using Crib Bumpers Now

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Earlier this year, I wrote about the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission’s (CPSC) decision to re-examine the safety record of crib bumpers in light of 52 infant deaths in 20 years. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is pre-empting the agency’s process and calling on parents to stop using the pads that cushion the perimeter of a baby’s crib.

“It’s a potential hazard, so don’t have it in the child’s environment,” Marion Burton, AAP president, told the Chicago Tribune. “I can’t think of any reason to have them.”

Any time government gets involved, the timeline is inevitably slow and plodding; the CPSC’s review of bumper pads is undeniably an arduous undertaking since some of the deaths took place decades ago. But a report from the Tribune is bound to make parents intolerant of the agency’s tortoise-like pace. (More on Are Crib Bumpers a Nursery Necessity? CPSC Vets their Safety Record)

In the process of formulating a recommendation as to their continued use, the agency has not scrutinized at least 17 cases in which a baby’s death has been linked to crib bumpers, reported the newspaper Tuesday.

“The bumper-related deaths are really tragic and really complicated,” CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson told Healthland in January, explaining that not only bumpers but soft pillows and other bedding are often found in the crib. “We have not been to the point of being able to attribute crib bumpers to a cause of death but we are going back into old cases to see if that determination has changed.” (More on Cribs, Presumed Safe, Injure 26 Children Every Day)

Not content to wait, the Tribune decided to conduct its own investigation:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Tribune requested from the agency all infant death files where bumper pads were mentioned. After 3 1/2 months, the agency turned over 42 of 52 cases since 1990. Officials provided one- or two-sentence summaries for the missing files, which they said are still in archives.

The Tribune found 17 cases in which the files contained few details on how the child died, yet the agency failed to ask for further information that could explain what happened. Some deaths are documented only by a death certificate or a brief report from a medical examiner.

Wolfson said some cases that weren’t investigated came to the agency’s attention years after the tragedies occurred, making it difficult to re-create death scenes, interview parents and analyze products.

The agency relies in part on medical examiners and coroners to alert it to product-related deaths. But the process is voluntary, and many officials don’t participate. As a result, the agency buys death certificates from states to try to find relevant cases. Wolfson said the time delay in getting death certificates can make investigations a challenge.

But it is still possible.

Crib bumpers are big business for baby-product manufacturers, and it’s not inconceivable that lobbyists have done their share to make the case that bumpers are safe. (More on Bye-Bye, Baby: Why Selling Your Crib Hurts)

Yet even the American Academy of Pediatrics, the arbiter of all things child, has grown impatient with their continued use in light of instances in which babies have been found dead, their noses pressed against bumpers. If you’re a parent, that image should be enough to persuade you to toss the bumpers and risk baby bumping his head.