For 73 years, Consumers Union has not been afraid to tackle controversial subjects. Our recent blog post “Five products not to buy for your baby” is no exception. Its aim was to highlight the unforeseen risks that certain products may pose to babies, not to give parenting advice. But clearly we struck a nerve with mothers who extol the benefits of “baby wearing” and “bed sharing” (as The New York Times noted). We are not disputing the benefits of either.
But based on many of the comments we received on the blog posting, it’s clear that there’s a lot of misinformation being bandied about. Knowing the facts will help all parents make the best decisions for their babies.
Research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that infants younger than eight months old who are placed to sleep in adult beds are as much as 40 times more likely to suffocate than if they are placed to sleep in cribs. Even when researchers provided a more conservative estimate by eliminating all deaths from parents physically overlying an infant and then doubled the estimated number of infants who may be put to sleep in adult beds, the risk of fatality from bed sharing was still 20 times greater than that of infants who sleep in cribs. The study was published in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The practice of bed sharing with infants is increasing, but so too are the numbers of unintentional suffocations and strangulations of babies less than a year old. Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the rate of accidental strangulation and suffocation of infants increased from 2.8 to 12.5 per 100,000 live births between 1984 and 2004. Although the increase in deaths can’t be directly related to co-sleeping, the quadrupling of the infant death rate is alarming. Deaths can occur when a sleeping parent rolls over on top of a baby, when pillows or other soft bedding obstruct the baby’s breathing, when blankets or sheets get wrapped around a child’s neck, or when a child becomes wedged between the mattress and the wall. We think modern beds consisting of soft pillow-tops or memory foam mattresses may exacerbate the problem. And we don’t think that co-sleeping products make the practice much safer.
Despite the number of cribs recalled in recent years, we still strongly believe that infants are safest when put to sleep in a “bare” crib—one without any soft bedding such as quilts or bumpers and preferably a crib with stationary sides.
Blog readers also commented on sling carriers. Although they have been used for many years, centuries in fact, we believe that today there are better and safer alternatives to slings that achieve the same level of close contact. Soft front carriers such as the BabyBjorn or the Snugli provide the same benefits as slings and have a lower risk factor.
Slings can be very difficult for some people to tie, position and wear securely. Not all are intuitive and it’s easy for caregivers to get them wrong. If they do, the consequence can be dire. Many of the injuries associated with slings happen when the baby falls out of the carrier or bangs his head against a hard surface, say a door frame. There’s also a risk of positional asphyxia, which occurs when a baby is curled up in the sling and the head is pushed so far forward that the airway is closed off.
It may be possible to make sling carriers that don’t pose safety risks and that are not as easy to use incorrectly as many currently on the market. We’ll reserve our judgment until an adequate safety standard can be developed for these products.
Well, no, frontpacks such as the Bjorn and Snugli do not provide the same benefits as slings, nor do they have a lower risk factor. They are far more often painful for the caregiver to wear and uncomfortable for the baby, and they can easily place undue stress on the baby's spine and misalign the hip joints. They can be harder to use (so many straps and fasteners everywhere!) and I see them worn incorrectly (with the baby not well supported) far more often than not. Oh, and finally -- this is a subject usually dear to CR's heart -- they're far less value for the money. Even good frontpacks can be used for only a few months before they become too uncomfortable -- while for the same price or for much less, depending on your definition of "sling," you could get a sling that is comfortable from birth through toddlerhood.
"Slings" is a pretty vague term and I'm not sure which carriers CR means to include in it. (What most people call a "sling" does not have to be tied, for example.) Yes, there are some pretty awful products out there that could be called "slings." But just as you wouldn't recommend against using ALL cribs (or strollers, or play yards, or high chairs) because SOME of them are poorly designed or have been recalled, it's totally ridiculous to recommend against all slings.
It's well worth EVERY parent or caregiver's time to learn to use a ring sling, pouch, wrap or mei tai. It really is no harder than learning to safely use a stroller. Buckle carriers other than frontpacks (such as the popular Ergo) are, by and large, superior as well and very easy to use. And although it's still difficult to buy a good carrier in a mass-market store, there's a plethora of options, to suit any wearer, readily available online and in non-chain maternity/baby-gear stores, as well as easy-to-understand instructions for making and using one's own carrier from inexpensive fabric.
It's too bad CR chooses to spread misinformation rather than help consumers find GOOD baby carriers.
You are being dishonest about reserving judgement. The original post specifically said, "don't use slings." That is very different from saying the issues are unclear. I still expect more from Consumer Reports. Why not starting examining and rating slings for ease of use rather than damning the whole product line. I don't see why the baby bjorn is any safer than a sling with zero adjustments like a New Native sling. I've more than once seen a baby almost dropped out of a bjorn has a parent is trying to adjust the settings and some kids just don't like sitting that way.
I also haven't seen any comments on the safety of lugging children around in car seats. As consumer reports done any stability tests for carrying car seats. Are there even formal standards?
This is a poor response and I expect more from Consumer Resports.
reccomending baby bjorns is a horrible disservice to parents. they put improper pressure on a babies hips. they are more dangerous than any other slip, wrap, or soft structured carrier i own. once again consumer reports writes about the companies that pay them to do so. please research these carriers before making horrible blanket statements. Ergos and becos are appropriate and safer alternatives to the crappy bjorns.
I appreciate the additional information.
But I'm disappointed in your response, and will point out where.
You went from "We think modern beds consisting of soft pillow-tops or memory foam mattresses may exacerbate the problem." To "And we don’t think that co-sleeping products make the practice much safer." I used the Arm's Reach co-sleeper myself, and I honestly can't see how a securely anchored Arm's Reach is any different than a crib or a bassinet. I think overall the information you provided in this second post was important but I wish that you would continue to back up specific assertions with specific facts.
For the slings, I continue to think that your point of view is not adequately backed up at all. Where is the research and information? Do we know that babies fell out of slings, or was it defective handles on hard infant carriers? Mothers tripping on Wiis? Etc.
Even a cursory Google Search on the Baby Bjorn shows that it has been recalled twice - once for the leg openings allowing babies to slip through, and once for the back buckle opening and allowing the carrier to fall. Did you factor this into your recommendation?
When you say babies can slip forward and stop breathing, I'd like to know whether this is the case in the upright Baby Bjorn as well? We know it is is an issue in infant car seats; are you recommending parents not use those?
I would love to know if there are specific issues with specific slings but I would prefer that Consumer Reports refrain from unbacked up statements about an entire class of carrier.
Weak, guys, weak.
"We’ll reserve our judgment until an adequate safety standard can be developed for these products."
Point the first: But you're NOT reserving your judgment. You're saying that slings are dangerous and advising parents not to use them.
Point the second: ...and you're basing this on what? Take a look at the name on your pay check: You're CONSUMER REPORTS. You are famous for conducting your own impartial tests on products. You test for safety and durability and value and ease of use, and for some products, your testing is more rigorous than the government's. Are you really saying that it would be impossible to test slings and other baby carriers? Is a sling more complicated than a motor vehicle?
Hint: People + carriers/slings + weighted dolls with impact stickers = a good start.
"Although they have been used for many years, centuries in fact, we believe that today there are better and safer alternatives to slings that achieve the same level of close contact."
Good grief. I expect more from you, of all people/companies/websites. Research and fact based evidence is what you're famous for, not hunches and feelings.
What was the point of this?
The original article cited deaths due to improper use of bedside sleepers; this article talks about deaths due to improper cosleeping practices and then simply says, "And we don’t think that co-sleeping products make the practice much safer." Not a single piece of research is cited to back up that statement.
How many crib recalls have been announced in the past few years? Why doesn't CR consider cribs to be unsafe?
Nor has any more credible evidence been provided about "unsafe" slings. You've simply gone into more detail about how parents use them incorrectly.
Does CR have any figures on how many parents install and/or use their carseats incorrectly? Is more than 1 child per year affected? Will CR be recommending that we avoid carseats in the future?
Wow, folks, can we settle down a bit? CR is recommending products based on their observations, research, and testing, and these are the results. Don't like them? You don't have to agree. Dr. Seers will give you a different opinion about this, if that's what you're looking for.
I do think that trying to use the "cosleeping has been used for thousands of years or other cultures" argument is moot and I agree with their findings. Our modern beds, with soft mattresses, down comforters, tall beds, etc., are a far cry from the straw-stuffed mat on the floor that a lot of co-sleeping cultures have used for thousands of years. I think it's very possible that the American Academy of Pediatrics is actually looking out for your babies' interests in this matter, as is CR, and not just trying to poo-poo attachment parenting.
This is entertainingly ironic in light of the post right after it.
I'm not quite sure why this report has caused such a stir among parents. Shouldn't the increase in infant mortality from 2.8 to 12.5 per 100,000 live births between 1984 and 2004 be a bigger concern than a preference for slings or co-sleeping? If data shows that a perfectly natural way of doing something is bad (like putting infants to sleep on their stomach) is correlated with death, it should be avoided.
I don't understand the vitriol I've seen here, but I've seen it everywhere parents discuss parenting, from strollers, to names, to schools, to foods. (Don't even get me started on vaccinations--I think having a kid contract polio in this day and age would be a sad tragedy) Either you parent the exact same way they do, or you are a horrible parent and the children should be taken away from you, and anyone that advises otherwise is paid off by big business. Very odd.
As a fellow journalist, I'm disappointed in your response Consumer Reports. Clearly, the original article was meant to be sensational, to be controversial. It certainly drove traffic to your site. And now, you're trying to cover up that sensationalism with a fact-based article.
Whatever happened to balanced reporting? Your original article was meant to point out safety risks with specific products, although the article was worded in such a way that it incriminated a variety of products in each category. Poor taste. And now, with your response, you take an obvious side against cosleeping and babywearing. Your job is to inform your audience on the products, not advocate one side or the other. You're not convincing anyone, just driving them away. Cut your losses and write a followup article on the great cosleeping and babywearing products out there.
With respect, you need to realise that people listen to you and hang on your every word - you can't just say that you don't provide advice. If you mention a product being "safer", people will buy it and use it. So your position is one of extreme responsibility. Be careful, then, what you recommend.
For example, you have suggested front carriers that could potentially have long-term negative effects on a baby's spine. Until research is done, you cannot suggest the use of such a carrier. You use this same logic yourself, so follow it! Look into the research about these carriers or speak to some osteopaths or similar professionals about them.
I would also say that most AP style parents - who are not freaks by the way - consider very carefully how to deal with their children. I for one have safety as one of my main considerations.
Cosleeping actually saved my child's life: he had an extended seizure in his sleep and stopped breathing (he has severe epilepsy). Had I not been able to wake immediately and call for emergency medical attention, what would have happened? I think this is the point of cosleeping for many - you can be there. If you are not drunk/drugged etc it can be done very safely.
I understand your focus is supposedly on devices relating to cosleeping, but you did not confine your comments to that. You cited statistics to back up a view that it is a dangerous practice. It is all relative. You would need to cite more studies from the worldwide arena and also balance your comments with studies of babies dying while in a cot. That's not been done here.
It is a very inflamatory subject as you have found out, so you need, as a professional writer to be very careful and anticipate this sort of reaction.
Lucy in UK
It would be great to have some information about how to do co-sleeping more safely. No, it's not risk free. (After 45 years of life and 14 years of parenting, I don't really know anything that is!) But there are ways to decrease the risk - don't drink alcohol or use drugs, use a futon or very hard mattress, make sure the mattress is large enough, use separate blankets for each adult, put the baby on her back in the middle in a sleeper, make sure there are no gaps between the mattress and wall or headboard, put the mattress on the floor. There has got to be research on risk factors and how to minimize them. For that matter, could you actually test some of the available side-sleeper cribs so that we have some actual idea of what to look for if we want them? After all, most of the products you rate have potential safety risks.
Andy, not sure whether you're still reading but a really quick search on infant mortality rates in the US has analysis which basically says the rise is concentrated in the neonatal period and is probably associated with low birth weights - that is, probably premature babies are living a bit longer, gestational diabetes is on the rise, and infertility treatments may be implicated.
CR is the first place I have ever seen to link the rise in mortality rates to sleeping practices. However, I'm not an expert. But I can see the hole in their logic.
Rather than re-state what others have so rationally stated, I would just like to say that perhaps CR should now change their name to "Bought Opinions", or something similar.
CR absolutely touted co-sleeping ( and devices used to facilitate said practice), slings and positioners as "unsafe" and flat out said NOT to buy them.
Then, CR backpedals to say that it is improper USE of these products that appears to make them unsafe.
I wonder how many CR employees co-sleep or have loved their slings and carriers?
Please, do a little testing, a little real world research and reserve your opinions for the break room and include facts and test results in your reporting.
This response piece is offensive, incorrect on many accounts, and unhelpful. While the article states that the increase in deaths can’t be directly related to co-sleeping, it spends the remaining paragraph talking about how co-sleeping could be a contributing factor. The author is not an expert in the field, he is a product tester, so his implying that co-sleeping is the cause is completely speculative. He cites no supporting research. The author, and Consumer Reports, should be clear that the original article and this follow-up are OPINION pieces and not fact-driven consumer research pieces. Consumer Reports is undermining its own brand when it backs articles such as this one.
I have to say that this is not the first place to say that co-sleep is a risk for sids or other infant death in fact I would say that every major medical, parenting, family magazine has reported the same facts.