Baby Rocker and Swing Recall: A Warning About Safe Infant Sleep
By Ashley Antle, APR
A new recall was issued earlier this month on baby rockers and swings due to a risk of strangulation. The recall was prompted by two separate incidents where 10-month-old infants became entangled in a strap under an unoccupied infant swing after crawling under the seat. One resulted in death by asphyxiation and the other in bruising around the neck before being rescued by a caregiver.
This follows a warning issued in June by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about rising deaths linked to baby rockers. There have been 13 reported deaths between 2009 and 2021 associated with infant rockers from a name-brand manufacturer, according to CPSC.
“I see families unknowingly use these products in ways that they're not intended to be used,” said Sireesha Mutyala, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Plano Legacy. “The way these had been marketed previously was not clear for families to know that these are not intended for sleep, and they're not to be used when babies are unattended. That's where a lot of the confusion is. We hear it all the time that caregivers didn't know that they are not supposed to use these for sleep.”
The CPSC warning stated that “parents and caregivers should never use inclined products, such as rockers, gliders, soothers, and swings, for infant sleep and should not leave infants in these products unsupervised, unrestrained, or with bedding material, due to the risk of suffocation.”
Unintentional suffocation is the leading cause of injury-related death among children less than 1 year of age. Nearly 30% of sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) are due to unsafe sleeping situations that lead to unintentional suffocation or strangulation, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data retrieved by the Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s, for its 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). Samantha St. John, a community health program coordinator with the Center for Children’s Health says that number is likely higher because of inconsistencies in how medical examiners label SUID. Some medical examiner reports indicate SUID or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as the result of an unsafe sleep environment or bed sharing, and some do not.
The federal government is cracking down on the manufacture and sale of unsafe infant sleep products. In May, President Biden signed into law the Safe Sleep for Babies Act 2021. It prohibits the manufacture, sale and distribution of inclined sleepers and crib bumpers, as both have been linked to sudden infant death due to suffocation.
Much of the danger with inclined sleepers and rockers lies in the degree of incline. Anything with a 10% or greater degree of incline is unsafe for infant sleep.
“The incline tilts the baby’s chin forward into their chest, which can narrow or close off their airway. They would also breathe in less oxygen and more of their own carbon dioxide,” Dr. Mutyala said. “This makes them extra sleepy so their breathing reflexes slow down a lot, and they sometimes stop breathing. That's why it is not safe for babies to sleep in an inclined position.”
Know Your ABCs
Any sleeping arrangement other than a flat surface free of padding, blankets, loose bedding, pillows, stuffed animals and other people can pose a suffocation risk to babies. Some baby items are labeled with a warning that they are not intended for or safe for sleep, but you may have to read the fine print. If the item is being used second hand, it may no longer have a label.
That’s why Samantha St. John says it’s important for parents and caregivers to remember the ABC of Zzzs: alone, on their back and in a crib. Knowing these will help you determine what is and is not safe for infant sleep no matter the item or label instructions.
“Babies should be alone on their back in a crib,” said St. John, who is a community health program coordinator with the Center for Children’s Health. “They should be in their own sleep space, whether that’s a crib, bassinet or pack and play, with no one else and nothing else with them. No blankets. No toys. No pillows. It’s just the infant on their back on a flat sleep surface with a tight fitted sheet.”
As parents themselves, both St. John and Dr. Mutyala know that is sometimes easier said than done. Exhaustion, cultural norms, and input from others all play a role in choices parents make for their babies.
“I have a lot of families that come from cultures where bed sharing is how every family sleeps with their babies,” Dr. Mutyala said. “We really try to educate families about the dangers of this because they're being told that they won't bond with their baby unless they share a bed with the baby. I try to talk to the family to work on some of those cultural differences in a nonjudgmental way and tell the truth about why certain things are risky and why we should use a safe sleep environment every time.”
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reports that between fiscal years 2019 and 2021 in Texas, there were 465 total infant deaths in Texas for which bed sharing was a factor. In Cook Children’s eight-county service area, nearly 2 in 5 infants ages 0 to 1 do not sleep alone in their own cribs or beds, according to parents and caregivers from the CHNA conducted by the Center for Children’s Health.
When parents are desperate for rest and it seems like their baby will only sleep in the rocker, swing or next to them in bed, St. John says that, while hard, with consistency and time they’ll get used to their safe sleep space.
“As a one-time exhausted mom, and sometimes still exhausted with a 4-year-old who doesn't sleep, I know it is so hard,” St. John said. “But keep trying and putting them down in that safe sleep space. They’re going to be safe if they’re in there. They may be crying. They may be upset, but it’s okay to step away. We want parents to take a breath because it is such a hard time for them.”
To know if your baby item, be it new or second hand, has been recalled or falls under a CPSC safety warning, visit cpsc.gov.
Safe Sleep Tips
For more information and tips about safe sleep, check out the Center for Children’s Health online guide to safe baby sleep.