As all eyes are focused on The Boppy Company’s recall of 3.3 million pillow-like infant loungers that have been tied to the deaths of eight babies, another pillow-like infant product that poses a suffocation hazard has slipped quietly under the radar: padded crib bumpers.
Studies have linked at least 48 infant deaths over 27 years to infant crib bumpers, according to a Washington Post investigative report published in 2019. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has identified 113 fatalities from 1990 to March 2019 and 113 nonfatal incidents from 2008 to 2019 associated with crib bumpers.
Why are so many infants getting hurt?
Padded crib bumpers, by design, pose a suffocation risk when babies roll over and their nose and mouth are covered by the bumper. There also have been reported incidents where infants have died after their face becomes wedged between the bumper and the crib mattress or when a loose bumper pad wraps around their neck.
Use of the bumpers has been warned against by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that infants be put to sleep on their backs, on a separate, flat and firm sleep surface without any bumpers, loose bedding or stuffed toys.
Yet, despite the risk, padded crib bumpers remain in the marketplace and are a staple in many nurseries.
A simple Google search reveals numerous photos of cozy, beautifully decorated nurseries that include super-cute bumpers. While crib bumpers can be a stand-alone purchase, they are also sold in the popular “bed-in-a-bag” infant sets that contain items such as matching sheets, a crib skirt, wall decals and a quilt, and parents may not stop to think that something in the set is dangerous. (Note that quilts are also a suffocation hazard for infants.) Ironically, padded bumpers are even advertised to new parents for their ability to protect their baby’s head from the crib rails and to prevent tiny arms and legs from getting caught in the gap between rails.
But parents who have suffered the worst losses imaginable due to crib bumpers can attest that they are not a safe product. One mom whose 7-week-old infant died after his face became wedged between a crib bumper and a mattress went public with her story of “hearing a scream that came from my husband’s body” after he discovered their son motionless in his crib. She described her husband as “standing there,” holding their son, who was “pale and kind of blue” in his arms.
Contrary to popular belief, in most cases federal regulators do not have the authority to recall unsafe products without a company’s cooperation. With an estimated 1.2 million sets of crib bumpers sold in the United States in 2018 alone, it is not surprising that some manufacturers irresponsibly continue to put profits over safety.
However, there is some reason for cautious optimism among child-safety advocates that padded crib bumpers eventually will be forced from the marketplace. A bipartisan bill, called the Safe Cribs Act, was introduced in Congress in April 2021 by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. The legislation is presently before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. If passed, it would make it illegal in the United States to manufacture, distribute, or import padded crib bumpers.
Also, in March 2020, the CPSC, whose charge is to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths from consumer products, voted unanimously to move forward with a proposed federal safety rule that would prohibit the sale of padded, pillow-like crib bumpers that fail to meet minimum airflow requirements. The matter was opened for public comment, and the agency has not yet issued a final, mandatory rule.
In addition, a few states and local governments — including Maryland, New York, Ohio, and the city of Chicago — have banned the sale of padded crib bumpers. Certain retailers, including Walmart and Target, have also stopped selling this product.
Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding partner and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd, recommends contacting a product liability attorney as soon as possible if your baby has been injured by a crib bumper.
Feldman said that all products should be safe for their intended as well as expected use. “It is simply unconscionable that in the face of so many heartbreaking deaths, manufacturers continue to put padded crib bumpers into the marketplace fully knowing that when used as intended, these products are dangerous and may suffocate a baby,” Feldman said.
Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, have secured substantial recoveries on behalf of infants and young children who have been seriously injured or killed by children’s products, including baby slings, unstable furniture and magnetic toys. The team presently represents three families whose babies died from asphyxiation in inclined sleeping products.
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