Infant Sleep Positioners - Are They Dangerous?

"Safe Sleep" Products That Aren't So Safe

Baby in crib with sleep positioner
A sleep positioner is not necessary to keep baby on his or her back. Getty Images / Catherine Delahaye

Infant sleep positioners used to be a common baby registry item.  After all, safe sleep recommendations and pediatricians instruct new parents to be sure baby goes to sleep on his or her back. What better way to keep your baby positioned properly than with a product designed for just that purpose? Unfortunately, we know now that some types of infant sleep positioners can be dangerous to babies.

What Are Infant Sleep Positioners?

An infant sleep positioner, also mistakenly called a crib wedge, is a product made to hold baby on his or her back or side during sleep.

Some are foam wedges or tubes attached to a mat that baby sleeps on, while others are padded plastic tubes with mesh on the sides. Some have a wedge-shaped mat underneath, with side bolsters attached to the wedge. All of them are designed to form a barrier on either side of the baby to prevent rolling.

What's the Problem?

In 2010, CPSC and FDA released a safety warning about infant sleep positioners. Thirteen babies have died while sleeping on a positioner, either because their face was pressed against the side, or because they rolled and became entrapped between the sleep positioner and the side of a crib or bassinet. Besides those reported deaths, CPSC has received dozens of reports of babies who were placed on their backs or sides to sleep in an infant sleep positioner, but were later found in an unsafe position.

The bottom line is that infant sleep positioners are not necessary. They may also introduce a suffocation or entrapment hazard into the crib.

A bare crib, with just a well-fitting crib mattress and a fitted sheet, is the safest sleep space for baby.

Availability

After the federal safety warnings, most major manufacturers stopped making infant sleep positioners, and they became hard to find in stores. However, some are still available online.

You may also see these products at garage sales or second-hand shops. Most were not formally recalled, so a recall search may not indicate that there's a safety problem. Since used sleep positioners likely do not come with the original instructions, parents or caregivers may miss out on any warnings or critical usage directions, as well.

Simply Unnecessary

While many of these infant sleep positioners were sold with packaging that indicated they reduce the risk of SIDS, there's no evidence that shows that to be true, according to the FDA. Placing your baby on his or her back for sleep is highly recommended for SIDS prevention, but newborns don't need a special product to hold them in that position. Once your baby is old enough to roll over, placing baby on his or her back to sleep is still safest, but you don't need to keep re-positioning every time baby rolls over to find a comfortable position. Again, adding a product to try to prevent rolling just introduces a hazard.

Homemade Positioners

Any time you add something to baby's crib, you increase the risk of suffocation or other hazards. You shouldn't try to use nursing pillows or other types of cushions in the crib to keep baby in position.

Rolled blankets or other homemade bolsters also create a suffocation hazard. Bouncers, baby seats or other small bassinets should never be placed inside the crib. In 2010, the Nap Nanny infant recliner was recalled because, in part, parents used it inside a crib, against the manufacturers recommendations, and more than one baby became trapped between the recliner and the side of the crib.

Crib Wedges

A crib wedge is actually a completely different category of sleep positioner, and is not included in the CPSC or FDA safety warnings. Crib wedges go underneath the crib mattress to elevate one end, which can help babies with reflux or some specific breathing issues. If your baby needs a crib wedge, you should discuss its use with your pediatrician. One example of a crib wedge is the Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer Baby Wedge (Buy on Amazon).

This wedge has a waterproof, antimicrobial, hypoallergenic cover and a non-slip bottom. Most babies do not need a crib wedge, but if your baby does, it is not inherently unsafe like most other sleep positioners, as it does not create a space for baby to become entrapped or an in-crib barrier that could result in suffocation.