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Nursing Pillows and Infant Loungers: The Latest Products Tied to Infant Deaths

November 11, 2020

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning parents that nursing pillows and lounging pads pose a suffocation hazard when used for infant sleep. The announcement is shocking in that horseshoe-shaped nursing pillows ― regarded by many new parents as “must have” baby gear ― came to market in 1989, and the implication is that this entire class of pillow-like products has been injuring babies for more than 30 years without any public attention.

According to the October 7, 2020, news release, the CPSC is investigating deaths that have occurred when babies are left on or near pillow-like products, and the baby rolls over, rolls off, or falls asleep. The release does not say how many deaths the CPSC is investigating, nor does it identify any specific brands of products. However, on the same day as the CPSC announcement, Consumer Reports published an analysis of government data which found that at least 28 infant deaths were linked to nursing pillows and infant loungers between 2012 and 2018.

Prior to the announcement, nursing pillows last made national headlines in 2015 when a Pennsylvania coroner strongly warned parents of their danger after having performed autopsies on three babies, all under six months of age, who died of cerebral asphyxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain, after their parents had placed the pillows in a crib or bassinet with their children. According to news reports, the coroner warned that the children may have been napping in the pillows.

Why Are Nursing Pillows and Infant Loungers Unsafe for Infant Sleep?

Nursing pillows are designed to lift a baby to a more “ergonomic” position for breast or bottle feeding. Another class of related products known as infant “loungers” are designed for babies to sit or lie in and often have padded sides, which a baby’s face can sink into. Loungers are similar to inclined sleepers, which position babies at angles as much as 30 degrees, where they can get into a chin-to-chest position in which their airway is blocked. In October 2019, the CPSC warned consumers to stop using inclined sleepers, citing reports of at least 73 deaths and more than 1,000 incidents from January 2005 to June 2019. Fisher-Price, Kids II and Dorel Juvenile Group USA recalled more than 5 million of their inclined sleepers. However, amidst the tidal wave of recalls, several companies defended the safety of their inclined products with padded sidewalls and rebranded them as loungers, according to Consumer Reports.

Nursing pillows and infant loungers both come with warnings that they are to be used when babies are supervised and awake. But the warnings clearly are inadequate and are not getting through to parents and caregivers.

Look no further than the internet to find photos and videos of babies sleeping in nursing pillows, sitting in them, lounging in them, or getting tummy-time. On the Amazon website, the first product review for one lounger said: “Do yourself a favor and buy this bed.” The reviewer went on to tell the story of how she could not get her 4-week-old baby to fall asleep until she tried the lounger. “Now he falls asleep and stays asleep,” the reviewer wrote. Thirty-two people clicked that they found the review “Helpful.” Directly beneath that review was another review from a parent who marveled that their fussy baby, who used to wake up every two hours, slept “8 hours straight” in the lounger. Fourteen people clicked that they found the review “Helpful.”

Notwithstanding the gushing reviews and cute baby pictures, these products, by design, place infants in positions that disregard the safe sleeping recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP 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.

Back in 2015, the Pennsylvania coroner warned that when babies are placed to sleep in nursing pillows it is possible for them to move around enough so that their shoulders could slip down into the center of the pillow, and their head could be pushed toward the chest, which can lead to an asphyxiation death.

Tragic incidents involving infant use of pillow-like products have been reported in the SaferProducts.gov public database and by Consumer Reports. They include:

  • A 5-month-old girl died after she was positioned in a semi-circular pillow on a bed for a nap. She was found 60 to 90 minutes later in a prone position rather than on her side as initially positioned, unresponsive and not breathing.
  • A 5-month-old boy was placed to sleep on his back with his head and shoulders propped into a U-shaped pillow due to a runny nose. He was found deceased, face-down in the middle of the U.
  • A 2-month-old boy died after having been placed in a crib with a nursing pillow.
  • A 3-month-old boy was placed in a bassinet on top of a nursing pillow. When his mother returned 15 minutes later, the infant had turned face-down into the pillow and had suffocated.
  • An almost 3-month-old girl died after having been “propped up” in a baby pillow during the night. She was found face-down, and the medical examiner determined her cause of death as positional asphyxia.

Should I Contact an Attorney If My Child Has Been Injured or Killed While Using a Nursing Pillow or Infant Lounger?

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 child has been seriously injured or killed while using a nursing pillow or infant lounger.

Feldman said that companies that label nursing pillows and infant loungers as non-sleep products while fully knowing that many parents and caregivers use them for infant sleep are not released from legal liability when children are injured or killed while using these dangerous products. Feldman stated: “All products should be safe for their intended, as well as expected and foreseeable, use. It is dangerous and irresponsible to sell any product, and particularly products intended for infants, which has not been tested to assure that it can be used safely.”

Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, has secured substantial recoveries on behalf of 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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