A Safety Warning on Infant Sleep Positioners

'Safe Sleep' Products That Aren't So Safe

Portrait of a newborn baby boy sleeping peacefully in his crib

AleksandarNakic / Getty Images  

Since 1994, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended babies be put on their backs to sleep to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Shortly after the "Back-to-Sleep" campaign began, a new product entered the market: an infant sleep positioner, designed to keep babies from rolling over on to their tummies while they are sleeping. 

Instead of making babies safer, sleep positioners are a suffocation hazard that has been linked to more than a dozen infant deaths and even more consumer complaints.

In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that infant sleep positioners can be dangerous for babies.

In addition, the AAP's 2016 updated safe sleep guidelines warn against using commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS, including wedges or positioners, or soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys.

The bottom line: Do not use an infant sleep positioner, pillow, or stuffed animal to keep your little one from rolling over in her sleep.

What Are Infant Sleep Positioners?

Infant sleep positioners used to be a common baby registry item. Safe sleep guidelines instruct new parents to place the baby on her back to sleep, so a product designed to keep baby in that position seemed like a good idea.

Sleep positioners can take on a few different forms: foam wedges or tubes attached to a mat that the baby sleeps on, padded plastic tubes with mesh on the sides, or a wedge-shaped mat with side bolsters. All of them are designed to form a barrier on either side of the baby to prevent rolling.

Safety Warning On Sleep Positioners

In 2010, CPSC and FDA released a joint safety warning about infant sleep positioners after 13 babies died using the product. In all cases, the deaths occurred either because the infant's face was pressed against the side, or because the baby rolled and became trapped between the sleep positioner and the side of a crib or bassinet.

In addition to the reported deaths, CPSC received dozens of reports of babies who were placed on their backs or sides to sleep in an infant sleep positioner but were later found in an unsafe position.

The bottom line is that infant sleep positioners are not necessary and introduce a suffocation hazard into the crib. A bare crib, with just a well-fitting crib mattress and a fitted sheet, is the safest sleep space for baby.

Unnecessary and Unsafe

Many of these infant sleep positioners were sold with packaging that indicated they reduce the risk of SIDS, however, the FDA warns there’s no evidence to support such claims.

Placing your baby on his or her back for sleep is highly recommended for SIDS prevention, but newborns don't need a special product to hold them in that position.

Once your baby is strong enough to roll over, placing baby on her back to sleep is still safest. You don't need to keep re-positioning her every time she rolls over to find a comfortable position. Adding a product to try to prevent rolling just introduces a hazard.

Homemade Sleep Positioners

Some parents have made their own infant sleep positioners, either to keep the baby on her back in the crib or to keep her from rolling off the couch. This is not safe: Any time you add something to a baby's crib, you increase the risk of suffocation.

Do not use nursing pillows, cushions, rolled blankets, or other homemade bolsters in a crib or pack 'n play to keep your baby in position.

You should also avoid using these items when baby is on the floor, couch, or bed.

Second-Hand Positioners

After the federal safety warnings, most major manufacturers discontinued making infant sleep positioners without formally recalling them. While most stores no longer carry them, used sleep positioners are still available online, at garage sales, and in second-hand shops.

Most used baby items do not come with the original packaging and instructions, which means parents and caregivers may miss out on warnings or critical usage directions. In addition, sleep positioners are unlikely to appear on a recall list. Do not use a second-hand sleep positioner.

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Article Sources

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  1. U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. Deaths Prompt CPSC, FDA Warning on Infant Sleep Positioners.

  2. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5) doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

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