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Baby Positioners: Are The Benefits Worth The Risk?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) issued a warning to consumers this week about the dangers of infant sleep positioning devices. The warning came as a response to several reported cases of fatal suffocation.

What are sleep positioners?

Sleep positioners are products used to position a baby’s head while he or she is sleeping. This is to keep the baby in a desired position while sleeping.

I remember using positioners for one of my twin boys because he always favored the right side of his head and neck, resulting in asymmetrical development of the neck muscles and the flattening of the right side of his skull. We used the positioner to make sure he sleeps on his left side, too.

Positioners may be specially-made products such as bolsters and wedges attached to baby mats. Or they can just simply be pillows, rolled up blankets or comforters. I used a hotdog pillow made by my mother-in-law.

Why the warning?

According to the FDA and CPSC, there were at least 12 reported cases of fatal suffocation associated with sleep positioners during the last 13 years. Suffocation occurred after the babies rolled from the side to the stomach. Many cases of non-fatal yet potentially life-threatening situations involving these devices were also reported.

Appropriate and safe sleeping positions

The US FDA gives the following advice on safe sleeping for infants which also reflects recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • STOP using infant positioning products. Using this type of product to hold an infant on his or her side or back is dangerous and unnecessary.
  • NEVER put pillows, sleep positioners, comforters, or quilts under the baby or in the crib.
  • ALWAYS place a baby on his or her back at night and during nap time.

Pediatrician Dr. Susan Cummins gives a very practical advice for parents and caregivers that is very easy to remember. THE ABC OF SAFE SLEEP IS ALONE ON THE BACK IN A BARE CRIB.

The benefits vs. risks of positioners

The US FDA has previously approved a number of positioning products for babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or flat head syndrome. However, the regulatory body is now requiring makers of these products to submit data showing that their products’ benefits outweigh the risks. In addition, the FDA is asking to suspend all marketing of these products while the data are being reviewed.

The FDA is also warning consumers about unproven medical claims by some manufacturers that positioners can prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Consumers are advised to report any incidents or injuries that may be related to these products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I ask myself now, what would have I done if this warning was issued 7 years ago when my son had flat-head syndrome? I would probably have talked to his pediatrician and his physiotherapist about it and try to find a safer alternative. What would you do?


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