When you’re traveling this summer and need to find an alternative sleeping arrangement for your baby (since the crib he usually sleeps in isn’t portable), don’t choose an air mattress, not even in a pinch.
According to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, since 2002, 16 children have died, mostly infants younger than 8 months, who were placed to sleep on air mattresses. Infants can suffocate in a face-down position on the mattress or when falling into gaps between the mattress and bed frame or adjacent furniture or wall. Air leaks and under-inflation contribute to the risk, but even when properly inflated, air mattresses are too soft for infants to maintain a clear airway.
Other unacceptable choices for temporary baby beds include a waterbed, futon, sofa, sheepskin, quilt, regular adult soft mattress, pillow, or bean bag chair. They’re all suffocation/SIDS hazards. Bed-sharing is also a bad idea because you could roll onto your baby when you’re sleeping, or your baby could get trapped between the bed and a wall, headboard, bed frame, or other object. Babies can also fall off the bed or suffocate in soft bedding.
Instead, go with a bassinet, play yard, or crib (if you can arrange for one). Each is an acceptable option for travel, provided that it meets current safety standards. (A shortcut: Look for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association or “JPMA” seal on these products. The crib or play yard should also be new. Older cribs and play yards may not be up-to-date with safety standards.)
Call ahead to be sure the hotel where you’ll be staying has cribs or play yards before you arrive. Do the same if you’ll be staying with relatives. Or play it safe and bring your own play yard; a travel play yard is especially designed for travel because it’s smaller than a regular play yard and folds easily. A travel play yard or a portable bassinet is also safe and convenient for camping, but don’t add any additional padding to the thin mattress that comes with it, nor a comforter, pillows, or toys, which are suffocation risks.
In general, a crib is considered the “gold standard” because it’s federally regulated; there are only voluntary standards for bassinets and cradles. So if you have a choice, arrange to have a crib for your baby when you’re away from home, whenever possible. The safest crib has a firm, tight-fitting mattress and tight-fitting bottom sheet with nothing else—no blankets or quilts, stuffed animals, bumpers, or pillows.