Originally Published December 4, 2014
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control revealed that nearly 55% of infants in the United States are sleeping with unsafe bedding despite a public education campaign that has been in place for nearly two decades.
The risk for asphyxiation and sudden infant death syndrome, commonly referred to as SIDS, is increased when infants sleep with blankets, pillows, and other bedding materials such as crib bumpers. While the incidence of SIDS has since decreased since the public education campaign was initiated, approximately 4,000 infants die each year from SIDS. In addition, accidental suffocation of infants has doubled between 2000 and 2010.
The problem appears to be that parents are receiving mixed messages. For example, several states have banned the sale of crib bumpers, a type of soft lining that is placed along the edges of the crib, citing safety issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned parents not to use crib bumpers after a study using data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was published. The study looked at reports of 52 infant deaths received by the CPSC where crib bumpers were present. However, the CPSC interpreted its data differently, and it was not until 2013 that the CPSC agreed to begin the process of setting safety standards on crib bumpers.
Despite the public education campaigns, images on television and print media commonly show infants sleeping with potentially hazardous materials, and manufacturers continue to sell these products. A quick internet search of several major retailers showed that blankets and crib bumpers are still sold as infant bedding, without warnings or disclaimers informing parents of potential risks.
THE NAP NANNY
The Nap Nanny was an infant recliner made by Baby Makers LLC and marketed to help babies sleep. After receiving more than 90 complaints, including 5 infant deaths, the CPSC stepped in to initiate a voluntary recall. When the company insisted that its product was safe and refused to recall its products, the CPSC commenced an administrative action against it. In June 2013, the parties reached a settlement that involved a recall of all Nap Nanny products.
Nearly a year after the recall, another infant died while using a Nap Nanny. While the product is no longer being produced, nearly 165,000 were sold between 2009 and 2012. Parents who are unaware of the recall may continue to use the Nap Nanny, and while retail stores do not sell recalled products, there is still the chance of private resales.
The CPSC’s decision to take action against Baby Makers LLC for the Nap Nanny while merely agreeing to look into safety standards for crib bumpers – a product that has that has been outlawed in some states and has reportedly caused many more deaths than the Nap Nanny – highlights the inconsistencies in consumer safety standards.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Manufacturers owe their customers a duty of care to prevent injury arising out of the use of their products. The CPSC is a federal agency whose mandate is to protect the public from unsafe products. Parents are expected to protect their children from harm. So when a child is injured or dies when sleeping, who is responsible?
The answer isn’t necessarily straightforward. Some may point to the manufacturers of products for placing an unsafe product into the market. At least one parent reportedly settled with the manufacturers of the Nap Nanny, but settlement details were not available. Because cases often settle with strict confidentiality requirements prior to any lawsuit being filed, it is difficult to gauge whether manufacturers of infant bedding products are being held responsible for infant deaths that occur while using such products.
Yet, if a manufacturer maintains that its product is safe, the CPSC is meant to act as a consumer advocate, make an independent assessment, and take action if a product is found to be unsafe. However, the situation becomes more complicated when the CPSC cites a lack of evidence that a product is unsafe, as with crib bumpers, but professional medical organizations report studies to the contrary and states outlaw the sale of products they deem unsafe. In that instance, manufacturers usually still market and sell the product, stores carry the product, and it is up to the parents to independently research products and make up their own minds as to whose advice to follow. When infant lives are at stake, it seems that there should be a more cohesive message regarding the safety of consumer products.
About the reviewer