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Infant sleep products: What’s safe and what’s not?

Every year, an average of about 10 Pierce County infants die from a sleep-related death known as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID). You might be more familiar with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a type of SUID. Many factors—like placing infants on their back to sleep—reduce SUID/SIDS risk, but what about sleep products?

Many products claim they are safe and reduce the risk of SUID/SIDS. But these claims aren’t always true. Sleep products aren’t all tested or regulated the same way. Unsafe sleep products can contribute to accidental suffocation, a common cause of SUID. If you’re a parent or caregiver, you want to keep your baby safe. Learn what to look for when you buy sleep products to ensure your baby’s safety.

Safe Sleep Baby

Why does it matter where infants sleep?

You might feel overwhelmed by all the rules about where infants should sleep. But researchers study many factors to prevent infant deaths. Your infant’s sleep environment needs to account for their unique anatomy.

A baby’s airway is about the size and flexibility of a straw. This narrow tube gives infants the oxygen they need, but it doesn’t take much to block this little straw. The head of a newborn infant accounts for 75% of their body weight. If the baby’s head tips too far down or too far back when sleeping, the head can compress the little airway. Younger babies lack the neck strength to lift their heads and adjust.

Infants can roll into extra bedding while sleeping and might not be able to roll back. If they are stuck against a surface and rebreathe their own carbon dioxide, their brain doesn’t yet have the alarms to let them know this is a problem. If something covers an infant’s nose or mouth or something presses on their chest or their head isn’t neutral, it can affect their airway and lead to suffocation.

What products are unsafe for infant sleep?

Inclined sleepers

Between 2005-2019, consumers reported more than 1,100 incidents of unsafe inclined sleepers. Of these events, there were at least 73 infant deaths. Businesses recalled 6.5 million of these products. Learn more about inclined sleeper recalls.

In-bed sleepers

To date, in-bed sleepers have caused at least 7 infant deaths. In-bed sleepers don’t have standards or regulations, but safe sleep experts agree they can be unsafe for infant sleep.

In-bed sleepers have lots of soft padding, which can lead to suffocation. Soft padding also makes it easy for a parent to roll onto the product—and the infant. The sleeper doesn’t account for variables like mattress firmness or movements of the adults in the bed. If one adult in the bed is heavier than the other, the sleeper could tip toward that adult, causing the infant to roll up against the sleeper, caregiver or other bedding. Learn more about in-bed sleepers associated with infant deaths.

What products are safe for infant sleep?

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the ABC’s of safe infant sleep. Infants sleep safest:

  • Alone.
  • On their Back.
  • In a safe Crib.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates cribs, bassinets and play yards. If you need help deciding if a sleep product is safe, visit CPSC’s safe sleep web page.

For more information, including Safe Sleep 101 classes, contact MaryBridge Center for Childhood Safety and Northwest Infant Survival & SIDS Alliance.

Learn more about safe infant sleep.