Are Crib Bumper Pads Safe for Your Baby?

Danish baby girl sleeping in crib with bumper
This baby's crib has a crib bumper pad, as well as other soft pillows, blankets, and toys that could pose a suffocation hazard. Rune Johansen/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Crib bumper pads are still considered a common baby product, despite years of safety warnings. Parents often use crib bumper pads thinking they are increasing the safety of their child's crib. How will you protect those tiny arms and noggins from bumps without some extra padding? The warnings from safety agencies and advocacy groups are clear, though - crib bumpers aren't worth the risk.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency responsible for product safety laws and bans, "we strongly believe that the risk of death from padded crib bumpers far outweighs any purported benefits." Using a crib bumper pad may actually put your baby at greater risk for suffocation or SIDS.

Why Do We Use Crib Bumper Pads?

Crib bumpers became popular in older-style cribs where the slats were far enough apart that a baby's head could become trapped between the slats, posing an entrapment or suffocation risk. Today, all cribs sold in the United States and Canada are required to have slats close enough together that it's nearly impossible for an infant's head to fit through.

So why do we still use crib bumper pads? For some parents, the reason may be as simple as liking the way the bumper looks. The matched crib bedding sets in stores are often cute and the package deal makes for a nice coordinated nursery.

Other parents are worried about their child's arms and legs sticking through the crib sides, and some worry that the baby will hit his or her head on the crib sides and cause injury. According to a CNN article, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says crib bumpers don't offer much in the way of injury prevention.

Health Canada reports serious injury is not likely when a child puts his or her arms and legs through the crib slats. The baby will either remove their arm or leg from the slats if possible or make enough noise to alert a parent for help.

Crib bumpers have caused infant deaths due to strangulation or suffocation, which indicates that the dangers may outweigh the benefits.

A study from Washington University in St. Louis looked at infant deaths attributed to crib bumpers from 1985 to 2005 and found that 27 children under the age of 2 died due to strangulation or suffocation by bumper pads or their ties. The study also found another 25 children who were injured but not killed by bumper pads.

Which Groups Recommend Against Bumper Pads?

Some major children's safety organizations have recently suggested that parents and child care providers should remove crib bumper pads from baby cribs. The groups include: American Academy of Pediatrics, Health Canada, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, First Candle/National SIDS Alliance, and the National Institutes of Health.

CPSC Commissioner Elliot Kaye called crib bumpers "deadly clutter" in our nation's cribs. This statement was released alongside an analysis of 107 fatal and 282 non-fatal incidents involving bumper pads. These incidents happened between 1990 and 2016. Safety advocates had hoped CPSC would ban the manufacture and sale of crib bumper pads entirely following the report, but the agency stopped short of a ban, despite the clear danger bumpers pose.

The states of Maryland and Ohio have banned the sale of crib bumper pads.

Some state and regional Back to Sleep campaigns recommend removing bumper pads, and other states have legislation pending that would ban their sale.

Why Do These Groups Recommend Against Crib Bumpers?

One reason child safety organizations recommend against crib bumpers is that they pose a risk of suffocation. Just like a pillow or thick blanket, crib bumper pads can restrict a baby's breathing if the bumper is up next to the baby's nose or mouth. Suffocation risk is greatest when babies are very young and unable to move themselves away from potential hazards.

A secondary risk with crib bumpers is strangulation. Babies can become entangled in the crib bumper or its ties, or can get between the bumper and the crib. A few crib bumpers have been recalled because of stitching or trim that can come loose.

Those loose pieces also could cause injury.

Often, parents do not remove the bumper pads once baby can stand up in the crib. The bumper can provide a foothold that could allow the baby to climb out of the crib and fall.

Rebreathing of stale air is another concern with crib bumper pads. The bumper reduces the flow of fresh air around ​the baby, particularly if his or her face is very close to the bumper. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that some infants, when they are overheated or lack sufficient oxygen during sleep, are unable to arouse themselves enough to prevent death. Re-breathing of stale air may be a contributing factor to SIDS.

The official AAP policy statement on SIDS suggests that some babies are more prone to SIDS due to biological factors such as brainstem development or serotonin levels. However, the policy statement indicates "more than one scenario of preexisting conditions and initiating events may lead to SIDS." It goes on to say that we can't focus on only one potential cause for SIDS, because there probably isn't just one cause. We can't know ahead of time whether a baby is predisposed to SIDS due to biological reasons. What we can do, and what AAP suggests, is to reduce all of the other environmental risk factors, including the use of crib bumpers.

Solutions

Since many infant safety organizations now recommend that nothing be inside the crib at all, the safest route for parents and babies is to remove crib bumper pads altogether. If you're concerned about your child sticking arms and legs through the crib slats, and feel that you must use a bumper pad, one option is the Breathable Bumper (Buy on Amazon.com), which comes in a few solid colors and is made of airy mesh that allows air flow.

If you're concerned about your baby bumping his or her head against the crib slats, Wonder Bumpers (Buy on Amazon.com) might work for you. These lightly padded tubes zip onto each individual crib slat, so there's plenty of air flow still between the slats.

Babies really don't need the extra stuff in their cribs, though. Your best bet for a safe sleep space is to choose a pretty crib sheet, dress baby in cozy pajamas or a wearable blanket, and leave everything else out of the crib.