The crib bumpers at the baby store might fit perfectly into your nursery theme, but a new study finds that they also could be behind a startling number of reported infant deaths.
The study, published in the current issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, found that there were three times more bumper deaths reported in the last seven years than the three previous time periods. What's behind the increase isn't clear. The study's authors attribute the number to an increased reporting by the states or a diagnostic shift. But, they say, it also could be because there's an actual rise in deaths.
Here are the numbers, according to the study: Bumpers caused 48 suffocations, 67 percent by a bumper alone, not clutter, and 33 percent by wedgings between a bumper and another object. The study looked at numbers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. The study also found that 11 injuries were apparent life-threatening events.
Numerous groups and agencies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have warned against the use of bumpers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Bare is Best campaign recommends a clutter-free crib for babies. And bumpers even are banned in both Chicago and the state of Maryland. But there are no federal regulations for them.
"Bumper pads should not be used in cribs," wrote the Academy in 2011. "There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment."
Crib bumpers tie to slats in the crib and are designed to protect a child's limbs from getting caught between them. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which represents the industry, says on its website that, when used properly, bumpers can help prevent entrapments and injuries. The industry association sites a study, which was funded by the association, that indicates no significant risk factors for infant death from using crib bumpers.
The recent study, however, in The Journal of Pediatrics found 42 deaths specifically attributed to crib bumpers on a death certificate, autopsy or investigation and were diagnosed by medical examiners or pathologists as asphyxia or suffocation.
The numbers don't surprise Dr. Edward M. Pickens, medical director at University Pediatrics at Highgate in Durham. While the deaths are rare, they also are easily preventable, he said.
"We knew it could happen," Pickens said in an interview. "It’s nice to have a reminder, especially with real numbers."
To parents, Pickens recommends not putting anything in the crib - from a bumper to a toy, blanket or pillow. Infants are warm enough when dressed in footie pajamas with a onesie, when necessary, he said. And, he said, babies can't injure themselves seriously in a crib without a bumper.
Pickens said there would be the possibility of only minor injuries when a child's arm, for instance, is trapped between the slats. Federal rules already require that the space between the slats is narrow enough so a baby's head doesn't get caught between them.
"As far as the risk of getting caught in the slats if there is not a bumper, that makes a baby mad , but it doesn't cause an injury," said Pickens, whose two kids, like mine, survived their baby years bumper-free.
Babies also don't have enough force to cause serious injury if they fling themselves against the side of the crib.
"It's going to cause a bump. It may cause a little bruise, but not any real damage," Pickens said. "We're talking about a trade off of that or, though rare, the real possibility of death."
Bumpers remain a bad idea, Pickens said, as babies grow into toddlers, who use them to catapult themselves out of their cribs. Pickens has treated plenty of those kids.
"That extra couple of inches - that's all the extra height they need to get up and over," he said.
In other words, save your money on the bumper (because, if you have a newborn, there will be plenty of other opportunities to spend that money). If you really want to give your baby something for stimulation in the crib, Pickens said, hang a mobile above them.
"The vast majority of what we put in the crib is for our enjoyment," he said. "The babies don’t get anything out of it."