Why Inclined Sleepers Can Be Dangerous For Your Baby

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inclined sleepers

Many parents love putting their babies in inclined sleepers, those slanted kind of hammocks made of soft material that hang from a frame. Many of these products can vibrate, blow air or play music, and provide parents the promise of helping a baby fall – and stay – asleep.

But these products can be dangerous. In April, Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play infant sleepers following reports of babies who died while in them. Some of the infants rolled from their back to their stomach while unrestrained.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says inclined sleepers like the Rock ‘n Play increase the likelihood of airway compression and suffocation.

Babies should be put to bed on their back – alone, unrestrained and on a firm, flat surface without bumpers and other soft bedding, says the AAP and other organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

In this Q and A, we talked with pediatrician Erin Frank, MD, Associate Division Chief, Pediatric Hospital Medicine at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, about reclining sleepers and why they present a danger to infants. Here is what she had to say:

Q. Why are these kinds of sleepers popular?

A. This kind of product keeps a baby inclined, which parents may think helps prevent reflux or spitting up. So people may think their babies sleep a little better in this position, despite medical experts' recommendations.

The reclining sleepers also keep an infant in one spot, so parents believe they can have a little freedom to move around the house or to relax while the child is in the device.

Many of these products come with controls that shine a nightlight, play soft music or rock the baby.

Q. What makes reclining sleepers dangerous?

A. One of the real dangers is that babies have poor head control. They can slouch down while sleeping at an incline and tuck their head into their chest. This closes the airway and causes problems with breathing. If Mom or Dad is watching, they can do something about it. But if no one is around, this could be a serious problem.

Many of these products are made of fabric that might look soft and comfortable, but can be dangerous. If the baby can roll or move around, they can move their face into the side of the sleeper and smother.

The biggest risk comes if an infant rolls over in these devices. Many parents don’t realize the possibility that the first time a baby rolls over is when they are sleeping. You never know when your baby is actually going to roll over for the first time. We tell new moms that when their baby is two months old, they can expect the infant will begin rolling sometime in the next two months.

The majority of deaths occurred when babies managed to change their positions while in the sleeper.

Q. Is a reclining sleeper ever safe to use?

A. Any of the products like the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper are safe to hold a baby under the observation of a parent or caregiver who can respond to their needs. They are not designed for safe infant sleep when no one is watching them.

It’s all right to use these kind of products to soothe your baby and help her to fall asleep, but only if a caregiver is watching and only if the child is then moved to a crib or other safe sleep space.

In general, though, I think it’s one of those devices that’s not necessary. Most people don’t want to move a baby after she’s fallen asleep, so it’s not realistic to expect people to move an infant from a reclined sleeper to a crib.

A lot of these devices are still available through the second-hand market, such as resale stores or garage sales. Parents need to be very aware of the risks and dangers when they make these purchases for their babies.

Related links

Learn how the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center helps to keep families safe.

Stay up to date on recalls and other safety topics on the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center's Childhood Safety topics page.

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