Federal Safety Official Reminds Parents: Crib Bumpers Are Pointless, Possibly Dangerous

Image courtesy of Aaron Brown

No one likes the idea of their baby’s soft noggin getting caught in a crib’s slats, but a federal safety official is reminding parents that crib bumpers don’t really keep your child safe, and they could be hazardous.

After years of packing cribs with all manner of pillows and plush toys, the current standard advice for crib safety is to basically keep very young children in as clear a space as possible for sleeping: no blankets, no pillows, no stuffed animals, no bumpers. This is because young babies can’t disentangle themselves from soft materials in the bed, and therefore anything nearby presents a suffocation hazard.

Crib bumpers have gone through a surprisingly weird and wild path at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in years past. After years of evaluating the potential hazards and considering making a rule about them, the CPSC decided in late 2016 to add a plan to initiate a process to consider a standard during fiscal year 2017. In the meantime, the Commission issued guidance to parents and caretakers reminding them not to buy or use crib bumpers.

Today however Commissioner Elliot Kaye, a longtime proponent of safe sleeping spaces for children, released a paper [PDF] from his senior science and policy advisor reminding the public and his fellow Commissioners both about why he’s tried to have them banned.

Crib bumpers exist to prevent babies from getting stuck or falling through the slats in a crib, the paper explains. But regulation about cribs has changed since they were invented, and those spaces are now required to be narrower — explicitly so children can’t get stuck. Now, “bumpers primarily serve as decorations,” and are often sold as part of a bedding or nursery set.

But the injury they’re supposed to prevent has been significantly reduced through other means, and the hazard soft materials pose in the crib is high. The paper estimates that 38 infants per year die due to suffocation from pillows, which are pretty similar to heavy padded bumpers.

Maryland and Chicago both already ban the hazardous type of crib bumpers, the paper points out, with Illinois considering a bill that would take the Chicago ban statewide. And while the CPSC declined to take action in 2016 for procedural reasons, the paper argues that in fact, bumpers can qualify as something to be handled under the CPSC’s jurisdiction.

In a statement attached to the paper, Kaye reiterates his stance that crib bumpers are hazardous and simply should not be sold in this country.

“Dozens of infants and children die each year from soft bedding in their sleeping environments,” Kaye said. “I continue to believe these deaths are addressable in many cases.”

“The public should stop using padded crib bumpers. The overwhelming evidence shows that they do nothing more than contribute to the deadly clutter in many of our nation’s cribs. Based on the real risk they present, it is a mystery to me why they continue to be made and sold.”

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the Commission’s action on crib bumpers in Oct. 2016. We have corrected the error.