New regulations on sleep products will fail to keep babies safe, child advocates warn
But child safety advocates CNN spoke to worry these new regulations, while well meant, will not make a significant dent in the number of annual infant deaths.
“I looked at years of data from the CPSC’s nursery products annual report,” she said. “I found that almost all of the deaths from using these infant products — whether intended for sleep or not — were the direct result of the way the product was being used by a parent or caregiver.”
But that’s not going to stop “exhausted parents” from allowing baby to continue to nap in the car seat or bouncer, said Alison Jacobson, CEO of First Candle, a national nonprofit that’s committed to the elimination of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and other sleep-related infant deaths through education and advocacy.
Nor will it keep parents and guardians from handing down some of these banned products to other new moms in the family or buying them off the second-hand market, Pollack-Nelson said.
“I think from an optics perspective it looks like CPSC is doing something but they’re really not,” she said. “Recalling and banning products or requiring modifications to products doesn’t address the root cause — which is behavior.”
An unfortunate plateau
But other causes of infant death besides SIDS rose, including accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed.
Safety experts and manufacturers of sleep products have warned parents and caregivers for years to keep stuffed toys and soft bedding like blankets, pillows and crib bumpers out of a baby’s sleeping space due to the high risk of suffocation.
“And yet according to CPSC annual reports, suffocation is the leading cause of death on these products,” Pollack-Nelson said.
Why are all of these communication efforts and regulations often failing to reach parents? Because those messages aren’t packaged in ways that are helpful to time-strapped, weary parents, Jacobson said.
“Intuitively, I’m not going to read the manufacturers manual. I’m going to either go to Google or try to figure it out myself,” Jacobson said. “I’m also not going to go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I’m going to go on social media or call a friend.”
Telling moms not to sleep with their babies is “the ultimate in tone deafness,” according to Pollack-Nelson.
“Women all around the world do it. In the Burmese population, who traditionally bed-share, new moms are told by pediatricians not to bed-share, because it’s dangerous. But when that mom comes back into her community, she’s literally shamed if she is going against the culture,” Pollack-Nelson said.
Grandmothers and mothers are “telling new moms to “put your baby on the tummy, it will soothe them to sleep,’ or ‘cuddle the baby’ or ‘give it something soft to hold onto,’ because it worked for them and their baby didn’t die,” she added.
“It’s not just intuitive — it’s self-reinforcing when families do these things and nothing — 99% of the time nothing bad — happens,” Pollack-Nelson said. “But then, there’s that 1%.”
Relying on written manufacturer warnings isn’t good enough in today’s busy, online world, experts say. Information on how to keep babies safe at night needs to be disseminated on social media sites, in videos that are easy to watch and absorb, Pollack-Nelson said.
“And we need to make these available for free to pediatricians and medical providers working with new moms, especially moms who are low-income and non-English speaking,” she said.
Advice should also be culturally sensitive, she said, because “if it’s insensitive to the real-life demands of being a parent, it’s going to likely backfire or just fall on deaf ears.”
At First Candle, Jacboson said, teams go into at-risk neighborhoods and meet with moms, dads and grandparents in person, engaging them in personalized conversations about how they put their baby to sleep.
“Meeting exhausted parents where they are at and offering them safer solutions to their problems may be the way to finally reduce the number of infant deaths each year,” Jacobson said.
“It’s not necessarily the products. It’s human error. We need to be reality based as well as evidence based, when it comes to communicating with parents about safe sleep.”