The Truth About the Safety of Crib Bumpers

Crib bumpers can be super-cute—but are they safe? Here’s the deal.
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ByRose Walano
Sep 2017
baby nursery with crib that has bumpers
Photo: Mark Lund

As a new mom, your Spidey sense is in overdrive, watchful for anything that could possibly harm your little one. And for a protective parent, those hard wooden crib slats can seem especially suspect. What if baby hits her head? You might be tempted to turn to crib bumpers as a solution—but are crib bumpers safe? Hear what experts say about crib bumper safety and what alternatives you may want to use instead.

What Is a Crib Bumper?

A crib bumper, or a crib liner, is designed to surround the interior sides of baby’s crib to prevent her from slipping her limbs through the slats or banging her head accidentally. But while they’re meant to protect baby, studies show they can actually have the opposite effect.

Are Crib Bumpers Safe?

The answer is a big, resounding no. “The American Academy of Pediatrics currently doesn’t recommend crib bumpers because of the concern of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS),” explains Blair Hammond, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The concern is that an infant could suffocate if his nose and mouth get trapped under or against the pad. “Some crib bumpers are marketed as being safe, but for something to be promoted, there should be studies showing that they are safe, and currently there’s not enough data there to prove that crib bumpers are safe.”

In fact, statistics show crib bumpers can pose serious—sometimes fatal—risks for infants. Data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that between 1990 and 2016, 282 babies were injured and 107 babies died in incidents in which a crib bumper was used in the crib.

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Feel as if you need bumpers to protect baby’s head from getting bumped or caught in the crib slats? You really don’t. Since 1973, federal regulations have required crib slats to be narrow enough to prevent baby’s head from poking through. And the risks associated with baby bumping his head aren’t nearly as high as the risks of suffocation. Plus, even with the use of crib bumpers, baby can still hit his head: A 2015 study found that infants hitting their head and getting their limbs trapped in the crib slats still happened when bumpers were used in the crib. The CPSC is in the process of setting new recommendations for how crib bumpers should be regulated, but in the meantime the agency emphasizes that “ bare is best”—meaning the safest way for baby to sleep is in a crib with nothing but a tightly fitted sheet. “We strongly advise the public to stop using padded crib bumpers,” CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye says in a 2016 statement. “In our view, they do nothing more than contribute to the deadly clutter in many of our nation’s cribs.”

Are mesh crib bumpers safe?

The bulk of the CPSC investigation into crib bumper safety focused on padded crib bumpers, and the agency says there’s currently not enough evidence to say whether mesh crib bumpers are safe or unsafe, citing a need for more research.

In the meantime, it’s obviously better to be safe than sorry. While mesh crib bumpers may seem more breathable, it doesn’t mean they’re suffocation-proof. “Even with mesh bumpers, the same safety concerns are there,” Hammond says. “We advise against using them.”

Bottom line: The best way to keep baby safe in her crib is to follow the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines. Place baby to sleep on her back with nothing in the crib—that means no blankets, pillows, stuffed toys or crib bumpers—except a fitted sheet.

Are crib bumpers safe for older babies?

While toddlers aren’t at high risk for SIDS, crib bumpers create a whole set of new problems for them. “As kids get older, the concern is that crib bumpers could be used as a launching pad,” Hammond explains. “Babies might step on them to get up a little higher and get out of the crib, and end up falling and hurting themselves.” Again, resist the urge to buy those cute little crib bumpers altogether.

Crib Bumper Alternatives

So if crib bumpers aren’t safe, what are your alternatives? “I see why people like crib bumpers. I have kids, and when they were young they sometimes got their legs caught between the slats,” Hammond says. “But, unfortunately, there isn’t a great alternative to crib bumpers.”

Hammond does have one suggestion, though: a playard or portable crib (often used while traveling). Hammond says she used one herself for her third child. With bendable mesh sides, babies can’t put their feet through them or bonk their heads.

Published September 2017

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