Although the overall number of infant deaths blamed on crib bumpers is low, it has spiked in recent years, causing researchers to sound the alarm on the danger they pose and lack of real use they serve.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, who also published a study on deaths caused by crib bumpers, say bumpers are an unnecessary risk because infants are highly unlikely to hit their heads hard enough to cause injury in a crib and the cushions don't prevent children from sticking limbs through slats and getting stuck.
"When a baby's nose and mouth is covered by a bumper, the infant can suffocate when his or her airway becomes blocked, or from breathing oxygen-depleted air," said Dr. N.J. Scheers, former manager of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Infant Suffocation Project, in a press release. "So if bumpers had not been in the cribs, these babies would not have died."
The researchers analyzed data collected by the CPSC between 1985 and 2012, finding 48 infant deaths attributed specifically to bumpers. Another 146 infants nearly suffocated, choked or were strangled. The mean age of infants who died was 4.6 months, though infants' ages ranged from 1 to 22 months.
Of the 48 deaths, researchers found 32 could have been prevented simply by not putting a bumper in the crib. Most of the deaths, researchers reported, happened because infants' noses and mouths were covered by a bumper or were between a bumper and crib mattress. In the other 16 deaths, the infants got stuck between a bumper and pillow, recliner to lift an infants' head, or, in one case, an infants' twin sibling.
In addition to CPSC data showing 23 crib bumper deaths reported between 2006 and 2012 as triple the average of eight deaths in the three seven-year periods before 2006.
On top of this, researchers found another 32 bumper-related deaths reported between 2008 and 2011 to the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths -- increasing the number of crib bumper deaths from 2006 to 2012 to 77. This number may be low, researchers said, because crib bumper-caused deaths are often not listed as such.
"A ban on crib bumpers would reinforce the message that no soft bedding of any kind should be placed inside a baby's crib," Thach said. "There is one sure-fire way to prevent infant deaths from crib bumpers: Don't use them, ever."
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