Crib-Related Deaths Strike 100 Infants a Year

New research argues against rolling back crib safety requirements.

February 17, 2011, 12:57 PM

Feb. 18, 2011 — -- Parents believe cribs are one of the safest places they can leave their kids, and while that's still true, parents need to take precautions when it comes to cribs. According to new statistics from Nationwide Children's Hospital, 10,000 infant ER visits a year are because of crib malfuntiontions or mishaps. What's more, 100 infants and toddlers each year die as a result of unsafe sleeping environments.

Conner Smith almost became one of these statistics. A year ago, his mother, Kelly Smith, 27, went to check on Conner, then a year old, and his twin brother, Ethan. She found Conner dangling through a broken slot in his crib. His shirt, caught on the broken piece, was strangling him and he was turning blue.

"I immediately lifted him down and yelled for my husband -- he's a paramedic. He started CPR and called 911," Smith says.

Conner was kept overnight at the hospital and "everything checked out," but before he could come home, Conner's father made sure to replace the crib.

"It was the crib we used with my daughter, and the boys had shared the up until they were about 6 months old," Kelly Smith says. "We never thought that it could be dangerous. You put your kid to bed and you get this sigh of relief that they're in their crib and safe. It definitely made us more aware that these things can happen. Parents should be inspecting their cribs every once in a while to see if they're worn out."

The study, published online Thursday, was released early so it its findings could be discussed at Thursday's congressional hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which imposed stricter standards on children's products in 2008. The hearing served as a venue for trade and small business organizations, as well as child safety advocates, to voice their opinions.

Strict Standards for Sleep Safety

While a crib or bassinet is still the safest place to lay your infant down, poor design, misguided bedding, faulty setup and the use of hand-me down or outdated cribs continues to pose a serious risk to infants and toddlers. Between 1990 and 2008, more than 180,000 children under the age of 2 were treated in ERs for injuries related to cribs, bassinets or playpens, the study found. Of these injuries, 83 percent involved cribs and almost half involved injuries to the head and neck, including concussions.

And these numbers underestimate the issue, says Dr. Gary Smith, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

"We only looked at ER visits, so it's underestimated. This statistic is useful, but it can't give us a feel for how many children in addition were seen in physicians' offices or other care facilities," he says.

Before the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, manufacturers followed voluntary guidelines regarding safety design and testing, but since the passing of the act in 2008, some of these voluntary standards have become mandatory. For example, in December, in the first new mandatory crib standards set in three decades, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned cribs with drop-down sides that can trap children when they malfunction.

But safety concerns persist: the Commission reported that 11 million cribs were recalled by manufacturers in the past three years because they were found unsafe. And Thursday's study only adds fuel to the debate over strict standards.

"One of the take home messages of the study is that there's good news, and that's that we've seen a downward trend in the number of crib injuries. But the warning we need to take from this is that there's still 26 children a day who are injured by sleeping environments and taken to the hospital," Gary Smith says.

Cribs Still Safest Place, How to Keep Them That Way

While the child injury and death statistics noted in the study can paint cribs in a negative light, they are still the safest place for your baby to sleep, says Gary Smith.

"Parents shouldn't take from this that they should bring their child into an adult bed, only that we need to do a better job getting the word out to consumers on how to keep the crib safe," he says.

And what makes for a safe crib? Keeping the crib completely free of bedding is another new safety recommendation that many parents are not aware of: "The best crib is a bare crib. That means nothing should go in the crib but the baby -- no blankets, no pillow, no baby bumper. All of those things have been associated with an increase risk of suffocation death. Dress the baby warmly and put nothing else in the crib."

The crib mattress should also be so snug as to not allow two fingers to fit between the mattress and the frame, Smith says, because infants can become wedged in the open space and suffocate.

And while drop-down style cribs that have a movable side are now banned, many are still in use from before the ban. Parents using these older models or using any hand-me-down crib that is worn and may be prone to malfunction should throw them out, he says.

"Unfortunately, cribs have a long lifespan, so they may stay in families for many years with no one thinking to check if they are up to safety code."

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