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Why Are Inclined Sleepers Dangerous? Infant Deaths & Other Reasons To Avoid These Products

Updated on 10 May 2022 • 6 minute read

 

How Many Deaths Have Occurred Related To Inclined Baby Sleepers?

At least 94 babies have died, and 1,100+ others experienced injuries while using inclined baby sleepers, particularly the popular Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper involved in 50+ infant deaths. (1)(2)

What’s alarming is that these sleep products are still being sold and are popular as baby registry items or nursery furniture. (2)

 

New Safety Standards

In March 2022, the US Senate passed the “Safe Cribs Act” that bans the production, sale, and distribution of all crib bumpers and infant inclined sleepers (sleep surface incline greater than 10 degrees). (3)

This was first passed as the “Safe Sleep for Babies Act” by the US Congress in June 2021. (4)

 

Are Inclined Sleepers Still Being Sold & Why?

Unfortunately, yes. The safety law mentioned above will take effect in mid-2022. The brands are still free to sell these dangerous sleep products until then.

 

Delay In Announcing Product Dangers 

Based on the Congressional Committee’s investigation, the CPSC doesn’t have adequate regulatory or enforcement powers to prevent dangerous products from being released. (2)

They also pointed out the lack of oversight of consumer products, particularly those intended for babies and children.

 

What’s An Inclined Baby Sleeper Or Sleep Positioner?

Sleep positioners are baby products that manufacturers claim can keep your baby in a particular position while sleeping:

  • Inclined baby sleepers
  • Baby rockers
  • Baby nappers like Boppy
  • Baby nets
  • Baby bouncers
  • Bed sleepers
  • Docks and baby loungers like DockATot 

 

An inclined baby sleeper is a sleep positioner designed to have a 10 to 30-degree incline. It keeps your baby’s upper body slightly elevated. 

 

Why Are These Sleeper Products Popular?

Clever marketing strategies could be the reason behind the popularity of these sleep products

The Rock ‘n Play inclined baby sleeper was introduced and marketed in the US in 2009 as a product to reduce the risks of reflux. It quickly became popular. (1)

Many of these baby sleep products come with extra features, including built-in music players for soothing your baby with a lullaby, soft night light, and rocking features to lull your baby to sleep.

Some parents also mistakenly believe that they can relax and do things around the house because their babies are strapped to a sleeping device.

Sadly, many of these parents came back to find that their sleeping baby had moved into a different position, had suffocated, and was no longer responsive.

 

How Are Inclined Sleepers & Positioners Dangerous?

Many of the fatalities in these inclined sleep products were unrestrained on their backs. These babies were later found unresponsive and on their stomachs, already in a different position, or had fallen off the product. (5)

However, the restraints don’t appear to be the problem because several cases of infant deaths were of babies who fell over the side of these products, leaving the baby’s head hanging over the item or stuck even while restrained in the harness. (6)

 

How Are Babies Dying In Inclined Sleepers?

Another danger lies in babies’ inability to control their neck muscles. Placed at an angle, their head can roll too far to the side or forward, blocking the airflow in their airways.

Because they can’t move their heads back into the proper position, this can lead to strangulation or asphyxiation. (1)

 

Are Inclined Sleepers Safe For Babies?

No. Though still available for sale until mid-2022, inclined sleepers are unsafe for babies. Proof of that is the death of at least 94 infants and injuries or incidents involving 1,100+ others. (1)

 

Are Rocking Sleepers Safe?

No. Like inclined sleepers, these products can cause accidental asphyxiation.

 

Which Inclined Infant Sleepers Are Dangerous?

Regulators declared that all inclined infant sleepers are dangerous. 

The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) asked the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences through Dr. Erin Mannen, an Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and biomechanics researcher, to study the safety of these inclined sleep products. (2)

The extensive investigation by a team of experts, including a pediatric pulmonologist, a pediatric spine surgeon, a pediatric psychologist, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, and two biomechanics researchers, had the following results: (2)

  • Inclined sleep products can make babies roll more easily from the supine (back) to the prone (stomach) position due to their raised sleeping angle.
  • Muscle synergies (the way muscles work together) are significantly different in babies sleeping in these inclined products. 
  • If they roll from the supine to prone position, they might need higher musculoskeletal demands to maintain a safe posture to prevent suffocation. They can feel fatigued faster than they would on a flat surface.
  • The higher the inclined angle, the greater the neck and trunk adjustments while moving to prone positioning. This can lead to breathing difficulties or straining in an attempt to self-correct the position.
  • Also, babies can’t control their necks, so the inclined sleep products can put them at a higher risk of suffocation. This is proven by oxygen saturation results in this study.

 

The study also indicated that none of the tested products were safe for babies. All can increase the risks of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). (2)

 

The Dangers Of Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleepers

The Congressional Committee’s investigations highlighted the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, the first inclined sleeper in the market. (2)

Launched in October 2009, it promoted better infant sleep by reducing reflux.

However, this product alone would be linked to at least 50 infant deaths, yet the company continued to sell the item and earned over $200 million in revenue. (2)

The Congressional Committee revealed that Fisher-Price only recalled some of its dangerous infant sleep products after the CPSC mistakenly sent data to Consumer Reports about the infant deaths without redacting the names of the brands involved. (2)

 

Recalled Inclined Sleeping Products

Around 4.7 units of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper were recalled in April 2019, but these weren’t the only inclined sleepers recalled or pulled out by manufacturers due to safety concerns. (7)

The recalled inclined sleepers include the following:

  • Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Rock ’n Glide Soothers (June 2021)
  • Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Soothe ’n Play Gliders (June 2021)
  • Graco Inclined Sleeper Accessories (December 2020)
  • Kolcraft Inclined Sleeper Accessory For 2-in-1 Bassinets (February 2020)
  • Delta Inclined Sleepers With Adjustable Feeding Position for Newborns (January 2020)
  • Evenflo Pillo Portable Napper (January 2020)
  • Graco Little Lounger Rocking Seats (January 2020)
  • Summer Brands SwaddleMe By Your Bed Sleepers (January 2020)
  • Dorel Juvenile Group’s Bassinets (July 2019)
  • Fisher-Price Inclined Sleeper Accessory (June 2019)
  • Kids II Rocking Sleepers (April 2019)
  • Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper (April 2019)
  • Baby Matters Nap Nanny and Chill Infant Recliners (June 2013)
  • Fisher-Price Newborn Rock ’n Play Sleepers (January 2013)

 

Safe Sleeping Guidelines For Babies

SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is among the leading causes of infant death, according to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). (8)

The AAP released the following Safe Sleep recommendations to reduce the risks of accidental infant deaths: (8)

  • Put your little one on their back – Side sleeping isn’t advised until your baby is one year of age.
  • Put them in a separate sleep space in your room.
  • Let your baby sleep only on a firm surfaceBassinets, cribs, portable cribs, and play yards are alright as long as the flat surface doesn’t indent or conform to your baby’s shape.
  • Avoid using soft bedding and crib bumpers that sink or potentially block their nose and mouth.
  • Avoid letting your baby sleep in sitting or lounging devices car seats, baby loungers, infant slings, infant carriers, strollers, and baby swings aren’t designed for sleeping. Only use these with supervised play.
  • Keep your little one’s sleep environment free from loose beddings and soft objects – These objects can obstruct your baby’s airways or cause strangulation.
  • Supervised tummy time – The AAP approves tummy time as long as your baby is awake and they’re supervised at all times.
  • Avoid over-bundling or using head coverings for your baby – Overheating can also lead to breathing troubles and suffocation in babies. Always try to dress them appropriately for their environment and regularly check their chest for sweating or signs that they’re feeling too hot in their clothes.
  • Avoid swaddling once your baby begins or attempts to roll – They can get stuck and have breathing troubles if they roll to their stomachs while swaddled.
  • Give your baby a pacifier during naps or nighttime sleep – Studies show that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS. (9)
  • Avoid using commercial devices against the AAP’s sleep recommendations – These can include crib bumpers, wedges, sleep positioners, or other sleeping products marketed by brands to protect against SIDS.
  • Breastfeeding is recommended – Research shows that breastfeeding can reduce SIDS risks. (10)
  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy and obtain regular prenatal care – Research shows that babies of moms who smoked or didn’t obtain prenatal care can have a higher risk of SIDS. (11)

 

IMPORTANT: Always check for safety recalls or ask your pediatrician before buying any baby sleep product, especially from garage sales and second-hand shops.

 

What To Do With Inclined Sleepers & Crib Bumpers

It’s estimated that one in three families in the US own an inclined sleeper, crib bumpers, or similar products. (1)

If you’re one of them, stop using the item for unsupervised sleep immediately.

Check with the manufacturer if they’re willing to provide a refund of your purchase.

 

FAQs

Do Babies Sleep Better Flat Or Inclined?

The Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play inclined sleeper was marketed to reduce reflux and make babies sleep better. However, the high number (50+) of infant deaths in this product shows that this inclined position can be dangerous to your little one. (2)

 

Is It Okay To Sleep On An Incline?

No. Babies shouldn’t sleep on an incline because this position can lead to asphyxiation, especially when they’re still unable to control their neck and head.

 

 

 

References

(1) https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/6/4/22519496/infant-inclined-sleeperconsumer-product-safety-commission-fisher-price-rock-n-play-bassinet

(2) https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/Inclined%20Sleeper%20Report.pdf

(3) https://www.wgem.com/2022/05/04/bill-would-ban-sale-padded-crib-bumpers/

(4) https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3182

(5) https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2021/Fisher-Price-Recalls-4-in-1-Rock-n-Glide-Soothers-After-Four-Infant-Deaths-2-in-1-Soothe-n-Play-Gliders-Also-Recalled

(6) https://www.cpsc.gov/Newsroom/News-Releases/2013/Nap-Nanny-and-Chill-Infant-Recliners-Recalled-by-Baby-Matters-LLC-After-Five-Infant-DeathsCPSC-Firm-Settle-Administrative-Litigation

(7) https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2019/Fisher-Price-Recalls-Rock-n-Play-Sleepers-Due-to-Reports-of-Deaths

(8) https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/138/5/e20162938/60309/SIDS-and-Other-Sleep-Related-Infant-Deaths-Updated

(9) https://www.bmj.com/content/332/7532/18

(10) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21669892/

(11) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15051553/

 

 

 

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