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Why Inclined Infant Sleepers are Dangerous for the Baby

Why Inclined Infant Sleepers are Dangerous for the Baby

Ashley Rogers
baby sleeping

I have a scary story to tell you, parents. I’m sharing it because recently, in my research for Think Differently About Kids, I came across the abundance of information now available about the dangers of inclined infant sleepers. 

Immediately, my mind flashed to this rocking sleeper with my kiddos in it. With both of my boys, I used this sleeper to rock the babes off to dreamland for a quick nap more times than I can count. I can assure you that all of the glorious reviews about this product were real. Indeed, it was my kids’ favorite spot for sweet-dream siestas. I was always extraordinarily grateful for its portability and ease of use. Plus, the fact that it was pretty much guaranteed my kids would nap in it. I had no idea the risk they were actually in while they were using it. 

My littles are now 6 and 3 and thankfully unharmed by their time with the rocker. Yet, it was only last year around this same time that my youngest stopped using his infant-inclined sleeper altogether. When, you say? Yes, last year. Right around this time. And that’s why this article feels urgent. 

What You Need to Know About Inclined Infant Sleepers

Even though this topic has received a lot of press, it’s more than possible that some parents, like me until recently, may not know. Here’s the thing. All parents should stop using inclined sleepers of any kind, immediately. That’s right. Right now, without even another nap. That might feel brusque, and many parents struggle with the idea of tossing baby’s go-to-sleep solution. But do me a favor, and read the rest of this article. You’ll see why this issue is so crucial. 

This article is about a straightforward topic; inclined infant sleepers are dangerous, with an incredibly complicated backstory; how did a product so dangerous become so popular in the first place? And why is there so much confusion around these sleepers now? Parents need to know to avoid these perilous sleepers. Now, let’s get down to details and answer the hows and whys of this issue. 

Have Inclined Infant Sleepers Harmed Babies? 

The short answer is, emphatically, yes. 92 infants have died in these sleepers. And that’s only the number of instances we know about so far. The total is on the rise after Consumer Reports launched an investigation in April of 2019 into the threat these sleepers pose to infants. 

As more evidence comes to light surrounding these hazardous sleepers, CR has gathered “lawsuits, government records, and parent interviews” that bring the total up 19 from just last October when the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 73 deaths related to these products. 

Which Inclined Infant Sleepers Are Dangerous? 

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Hoping that maybe your incline sleeper isn’t on the list? Sorry parents, the answer to this one is all of them. A recent study about baby biomechanics while using inclined sleepers revealed that none of these products is safe for infant sleep. That’s why parents need to cease the use of these sleepers right away. 

Erin Mannen, Ph.D., is a mechanical engineer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She designed the research used by the CPSC to evaluate babies’ safety in inclined sleepers based on their body movements, muscle use, and oxygen saturation in an inclined sleeper. In an interview with Parents Magazine, she shared that an inclined sleeper is any sleep surface where a baby slumbers at an incline between 10 and 30 degrees. Mannen and her team observed three main problem areas with inclined sleepers. 

  1. Too Steep – Higher than 10 degrees is too steep for babies. That’s because their heads are disproportionately heavy for their bodies. Babies can lose airflow when tired muscles let their heads droop forward too long. 
  2. Too Plush – Soft surfaces meant to provide little ones with comfort can be a suffocation danger for babes. Even sleepers with mesh sides, intended to be more breathable, were found to be hazards for suffocation. 
  3. Too Soft – A firm crib mattress gives baby a surface to push against while building the strength to move more independently. This ability is especially important when repositioning during sleep. The inclined sleepers have sleep surfaces that didn’t give baby enough support. 

The findings were consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Practices recommendations. The AAP says infants should sleep flat on their backs with no pillows, blankets, or other objects that could potentially hinder the baby’s airflow. 

How Did Inclined Infant Sleepers Become So Popular? 

You might be asking how this all happened. How did such a clearly perilous product spend so much time being such a popular baby sleeper? Here’s the timeline.

The Fisher-Price Rock’n Play debuted in 2009. It quickly became the darling of parentally-praised sleepers for infants and babies, despite pediatricians decrying it as dangerous. In April of 2019, Fisher-Price, citing an infant death toll of 30 babies at the time, recalled all 4.7 million of the rockers. It was two weeks later that Kids II recalled another 700,000 products. These moves sparked other inclined sleeper recalls and, ultimately, ignited the investigations that have led to steadily climbing numbers of infant deaths due to the sleepers.

As I mentioned above, the main problem from the parental side is that these sleepers worked. Really well. It’s certainly startling to think that if I were writing to you from the latter half of 2016, I would undoubtedly have extolled the virtues of this sleeper from personal experience. Not just me either, sleep-deprived parents everywhere rejoiced having a shut-eye solution for their babes in inclined sleepers. 

And that’s pretty much the way it went down. Naturally, since these inclined sleepers were such marvelously effective products, the news made its way around the parental grapevine quickly. Thus, the Rock’n Play and other similar products enjoyed a solid decade of success from debut to downfall. 

The Delay in Announcing the Dangers 

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How did it take us so long to find out about the dangers of these products? Be prepared for a difficult truth here. Effectively, Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act is a law that requires the CPSC to run safety complaints by the manufacturers first before making them public. Ostensibly, this was to give the companies a chance to respond to safety issues before tarnishing their reputations if a complaint should turn out to be unfounded. Yet some say that all it really amounts to is deadly delays in information relay to consumers. 

The law has come under intense scrutiny by those who rally against it based on the fact that it appears to openly favor manufacturers’ business interests over the actual safety of their products. After all, that’s not exactly the caliber of protection consumers were expecting from the agency supposedly in existence to prevent this very sort of thing. 

Consumer Reports helps break it down with this definition.

“The law-known as Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act-requires the agency, in most cases, to get permission from manufacturers before releasing their names or any information that could reveal their identities, even when a product is linked to injuries and deaths. And when the CPSC does announce an alert or recall, companies often can restrict the information that’s released and negotiate the language used.”

Consumer Reports – Decades-Old Law Hides Dangerous Products and Impedes Recalls

The good news is that a new bill was proposed in January seeking to change this process. Called the SHARE Information Act, it aims to improve the old, outdated law. 

Are Inclined Sleepers Still Being Sold? 

Unfortunately so. But another new law is in the works surrounding the inclined infant sleeper controversy, as well. The Safe Sleep for Babies Act, introduced in June of 2019, seeks to ban the sale of inclined infant sleepers entirely. 

The fact that the products are not yet officially banned is why this question doesn’t have such a clear-cut answer. There’s been a fair amount of confusion over the sale of the sleepers. 

The CPSC had already cautioned consumers against the use of any inclined sleepers starting in 2019. In January of this year, Graco, Summer Infant, Evenflo, and Delta Children, with the CPSC, announced voluntary recalls of their respective inclined infant sleeper products due to the ever-mounting evidence of the danger and negligence in continuing to market, sell, or support the use of any such product. 

More than 165,000 products were recalled between the four companies. Other companies are stepping up too. For example, Kolcraft, who has had no incidences of sleep injuries related to their sleepers, has also recalled 51,000 inclined sleeping accessories. 

Added confusion comes from the fact that the sleepers are still for sale in some places. At the end of 2019, sellers like Amazon, eBay, Buy Buy Baby, and Walmart stopped carrying these products entirely. While they are earning kudos for ceasing to sell inclined infant sleep products to help keep babies safe, other retailers have yet to drop the sleepers.

Another significant contributor to the continuing sale of the rockers is virtual, community sale spaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. These locations haven’t put any restrictions in place on selling the sleepers through their sites. Hence, parents need to be vigilant in refusing to purchase or use an inclined sleeper. 

Closing Comments

If you read nothing else in this whole article, please read this. 

Stop using any type of inclined sleep product for your baby right away. 

I’m just one of a multitude of mothers who, unaware of the danger, used this product to rock my littles to sleep. As I write this article, I am struck by infinite gratitude that neither of my babies was harmed. My heart goes out to all the parents of the little ones who needlessly suffered sleep-related deaths from trusting the safety of these sleepers. 

I know, I know. The dread of throwing out a baby sleep product, especially when something is working, is real for tired parents. But in this case, the evidence shows that the risk just isn’t worth the reward.

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