The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a warning against using any inclined baby sleepers after studies and recalls revealed that the deaths of 73 infants have been linked to the popular products.
Pediatricians advise that babies should sleep flat on their backs and investigations, lawsuits and research have found that a disproportionate number of infants have died while sleeping in bassinets that keep them at an angle.
Research suggests that sleeping at an incline increases the risk that babies will roll over and suffocate to death.
As a result, Fisher-Price recalled its entire Rock ‘n Play Sleeper line in April after a Consumer Reports investigation linked the product to at least 32 infants’ deaths.
Earlier this week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York called on officials to issue a recall for all similarly designed products, and last month, a University of Arkansas study confirmed that the sleepers make it easier for babies to roll over and suffocate.
The CPSC has stopped short of recalling the inclined sleepers but is now warning all Americans that they are all unsafe to use, even if their makers have not recalled the products.
The popular Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper has been linked to the deaths of 30 infants and a Washington Post report claims it was not tested by the right doctors and slipped through the cracks of out-of-date safety regulations
Fisher-Price’s recall, announced on April 12, was the largest of the infant sleeper recalls, affecting 4.7 million products.
But it was by no means the only one.
In August, Eddie Bauer and Disney both recalled their similar sleepers, amounting to about 24,000 inclined bassinets.
Now, the CPSC is advising that parents and caretakers stop using any sleeper that allows a baby to lie at an angle greater than 10 degrees.
The products have been around – and popular – for a decade now, enjoying a reputation for being soothing to infants since Fisher-Price introduced the first novel, angled sleeper to the market.
Not only did it turn out to be unsafe, but a Washington Post investigation has revealed that Fisher-Price never tested the sleeper’s safety before putting millions of the products on the market.
The Rock ‘n Play Sleeper has been at the center of class action lawsuits and in the pages of the court documents, The Washington Post found proof that the product received not received clinical evaluation until eight years after its 2009 introduction.
And its invention preceded changes to safety codes that would have required it to be flat, not at the sleeper’s once unique, but ultimately fatal, angle.
Consumer product safety standards are in place to protect vulnerable people from bringing home things that could fail or worse, do them harm.
And no consumer is more vulnerable than a baby.
Yet an immensely popular product, designed for infants not only slipped through the cracks but flew off the shelves.
Fisher-Price, the nearly monolithic baby product arm of toy giant Mattel, sold 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers.
An engineer there came up with the idea for a reclining sleeper, something no other company made, and it sailed into production in 2009.
Every other baby sleeper, at the time, was flat.
And that’s the way they should be, according to March of Dimes’s safe sleeping recommendations.
To sleep safely and minimize the risk of the dreaded sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or suffocation, infants should be placed flat on their back on a firm flat surface, typically in a bassinet with its side walls or a crib with railing.
But the angle of their sleeper, Fisher-Price’s engineers believed, would help babies get to sleep and stay asleep more easily.
It was a revelation, it was a hit, and then it was deadly.
A Consumer Reports article earlier this year called out the sleepers, which allowed babies to roll over in their sleep, sometimes fatally, and urged that they should be recalled.
On April 12, the products were recalled – a full decade after they were first put on the market.
At least two class action lawsuits have been filed against Mattel, which owns Fisher-Price, over infant injuries and deaths related to the sleeper.
The records reveal the slim testing that Fisher-Price – which was unable to comment on the record at the time of publication – carried out on the Rock ‘n Play.
Just one year before the product hit shelves and e-commerce stores, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed, creating more rigorous testing laws related to infant and toddler products.
Since 2013, that code has required that cradle swings have an incline of 10 degrees or less – a third of the angle the Rock ‘n Play has.
In 2009, there was no mention of angle in the safety code, likely because angled sleepers didn’t exist until the Rock ‘n Play was invented.
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t test every product before it comes to market.
Still, Fisher-Price didn’t have a medical expert evaluate its product, and the design conflicted with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for safe sleep.
According to the Washington Post’s review of court documents, the industrial designer who came up with the idea for the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, Linda Chapman, said that she had initially worked off of her memory the advice her pediatrician had given her about her son years prior when he’d been an infant suffering reflux.
In a deposition, she said her doctor had suggested putting a pillow under the baby’s head to elevate it to help with his reflux.
During product testing in 2009, Fisher-Price worked with a family doctor, Dr Gary Deegear, but not a pediatrician.
Over course of the lawsuit, the company continued to cite information related to babies with gastric issues, including guidelines cited by a 2001 North American Society for Pediatric gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition newsletter, the Post reported.
And even assuming that the sleeper was tested according to federal standards, it wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing in the code of the time mentioned the necessity of flat sleeping surfaces.
Now, the US CPSC is hoping to ensure that no parents entrust these misguided bassinets with the safety of their babies.