A fixture in millions of American homes for years will undergo changes that should save some infants’ lives. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted 3 to 1 last month to require inclined baby sleepers, in-bed sleepers and other non-traditional sleep products to comply with the same safety standards that apply to cribs and bassinets.
The CPSC began to focus on inclined sleepers two years ago, after Fisher-Price recalled nearly 5 million Rock ‘n Play sleepers following about 50 infant deaths.
If you’re stunned that safety standards weren’t required before, get this: The new rules don’t take effect for a year. That’s one of the problems in the world of infant sleep.
The CPSC did the right thing: It affirmed that any sleep product aimed at infants under 5 months old must meet the same safety standards that apply to five types of sleep products: full-sized cribs, less-than-full-sized cribs, bassinets, bedside sleepers and play yards/playpens.
But despite those earlier fatalities and previously unreported ones disclosed last month, babies remain in danger until the new rules kick in.
The first week of June made it even more clear that one-year delay is unacceptable:
On June 3, the CPSC and Fisher-Price recalled 175,000 4-in-1 Rock ‘n Glide Soothers and 2-in-1 Soothe ‘n Play Gliders after four infants died while using the Rock ‘n Glide product. The two products had similar designs and both were similar to the Rock ‘n Play sleeper and an inclined sleeper by Kids II that were recalled in April 2019.
On June 7, in a previously scheduled House Oversight Committee hearing, Mattel Inc. CEO Ynon Kreiz and Chuck Scothon, the general manager of Mattel’s subsidiary Fisher-Price, shocked observers when they admitted that the company has received 97 reports of infant deaths while using the Rock ‘n Play. That’s about double the number previously reported. On the same day, the committee released a blistering 38-page report that criticized Fisher-Price and the CPSC.
At that hearing, Kreiz said the company doesn’t blame parents whose babies died. But he said, “It is about using the product in line with instructions.” And concerning four babies who died while using the just-recalled Rock ‘n Glide Soothers, he said, “We believe the glider was safe when used in accordance with the instructions.”
The executives said that after the recalls of the two soother/glider products on June 4, the company no longer has any inclined sleepers on the market. However, as one congresswoman noted, Fisher-Price still sells its Sweet Dreams Snugapuppy Deluxe Bouncer and its Sweet Snugapuppy Dreams Cradle ‘n Swing. If dreaming is involved in these inclined products, it means sleeping is involved. These seem like inclined sleepers by another name.
Numerous other manufacturers besides Fisher-Price still have inclined sleepers, swings, gliders and bouncers on the market. And there’s no indication that will change unless and until they can’t meet the new standards next year. As the products are designed currently, it’s unlikely they’d pass muster.
One way they might skirt the rules is through a loophole in the CPSC decision, which targets products designed for sleeping for infants younger than 5 months old. What if the manufacturers market the products for babies aged 5 months or older? What if they rename the exact same product a “rocker” or “lounger” or “soother,” instead of a “sleeper?”
What’s really needed in the short term is for Congress to pass the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021, which was introduced last month. Similar legislation failed to advance in the Senate after the House approved it in 2019. The legislation would reclassify crib bumpers and sleepers inclined more than 10 degrees as hazardous products and ban them under the Consumer Product Safety Act.
Authorities ranging from American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Lee Savio Beers to Acting CPSC Chairman Robert Adler agree that inclined products by any name — gliders, soothers, rockers, loungers or swings — are not safe for infant sleep because of the risk of suffocation.
How many more infants are going to die before lawmakers and regulators expedite and broaden the rules that can protect babies?
Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers' health, safety and financial security. Prior to her current role, she worked as a journalist and columnist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio's largest daily newspaper. She is the recipient of dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, Best Business Writer in Ohio, and National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Among the accomplishments she’s most proud of is receiving a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected at least 15 million customers nationwide. Her work caused Verizon to reach an $80 million settlement with the FCC, the largest ever imposed at that time. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons and a dog. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.