Crib Safety: Are Crib Bumpers Safe?

baby boy peeking over the top of crib bumper
Photo by Darryl Harris, Jr. via Getty Images.

Bumpers are everywhere. We see them on Pinterest, in our favorite magazines and catalogues, and even on the shelves of our local baby-mart. But are crib bumpers really safe?

Don’t bet on it.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this popular bedding accessory is not just dangerous - It’s deadly.

In September 2007, The Journal of Pediatrics published a now-infamous study that attributed as many as 27 accidental infant deaths to the use of crib bumpers.

According to the investigation, many children suffered injuries after getting trapped between the bumper and another object, such as the crib mattress. Some infants were strangled by loose bumper ties. Others slowly suffocated after their faces became pressed against the bumper, either smothering the mouth and nose completely or creating a pocket of exhaled carbon dioxide, which gradually reduced their oxygen intake.

As a result of this and other studies, the AAP has issued an official safety warning against the use of crib bumpers, deriding the popular product as both dangerous and unnecessary. Still, concern and confusion persist, and bumpers continue to sell despite safety warnings.

Why Many Parents Continue to Use Crib Bumpers

If crib bumpers are so dangerous, why do so many parents continue to use them?

Some parents have trouble believing the AAP’s charge that crib bumpers are unnecessary, arguing that they protect infants from bumps and bruises and prevent little arms and legs from becoming trapped between crib slats.

Isn’t that why bumpers exist in the first place?

Crib bumpers have been around for decades. At the time they first came about, a lack of crib safety regulations made them necessary. In the 1970s, new regulations mandated a much smaller gap between crib rails, eliminating the serious head and neck injuries that bumpers were designed to prevent.

While it is still possible for baby to have a run in with the rails, they are unlikely to do so with any real force, making it difficult for them to suffer any significant trauma. And while getting a limb caught in between the bars may be frightening for babies and parents alike, broken bones and other serious injuries are extremely rare. It may not be a pleasant experience, but it is, by far, the lesser of two evils.

Another reason parents continue to buy crib bumpers is the product’s widespread availability. After all, if they sell them, they must be safe to use, right?

Sadly, availability is a poor indicator of safety. Several states have considered banning the sale of bumpers in order to eliminate this dangerous misconception, but there are currently no laws restricting their sale in the United States.

Remember, just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should. When buying products for your baby, it’s important to do your homework. Always check to make sure your chosen product meets current safety regulations, and be sure to register any new baby gear. If something goes wrong, you’ll be among the first to know.

Alternative Bumpers: Are They Safe?

In recent years, a number of alternative, bumper-like products, such as mesh bumpers and individual slat wraps, have been developed.

But do these products really provide a safer alternative?

Well… maybe.

Specially designed to address concerns related to traditional bumper use, alternative bumpers sure seem like a safer choice—and, indeed, they may be. However, it is important for parents to remember that few of these products have been independently tested, and no published data currently exists to support their claims. As a result, the AAP recommends parents avoid them until more research can be done.

Creating a Safe Sleeping Environment

So what does your little one need to be safe and comfortable at night?

According to the AAP, a firm, well-fitting mattress with a waterproof cover and a thin fitted sheet is all you need. That’s it! No pillows; no blankets; and no stuffed toys.

Worried about baby’s comfort during cold weather?

A blanket is not the answer! Even when swaddled tightly around your child, a blanket may become loose and obstruct your little one’s breathing. Instead, invest in a wearable blanket or swaddling wrap.

Wearable blankets fit snugly over the torso, expanding at the bottom to accommodate baby’s legs like a small sleeping bag. Since there is no loose fabric around baby’s face, there is no risk of the smothering.

If you prefer to swaddle your little one, opt for a purpose-made swaddling wrap, like the SwaddleMe or Miracle Blanket, which use Velcro to hold the swaddling fabric firmly in place. Either product will keep your little dreamer safe and snug during cold, winter months.

For more tips on creating a safe sleeping environment, be sure to check out these important crib safety guidelines. Concerned about SIDS? Learn how you can help reduce the risk in your nursery with this handy guide.