A young baby lies in a crib with crib bumpers.
“There is no need for crib bumpers. They don’t serve any purpose,” a child injury prevention expert said about crib bumpers. A recent study showed the bumpers may be the cause of infant deaths. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Crib bumpers may make baby’s bed look cozy, but they can be deadly.

A new study shows the number of infant deaths and injuries caused by crib bumpers has spiked in recent years, leading researchers to call for a ban on the popular bedding accessory.

The report reinforces the need to create a safe sleeping environment for infants, says Jennifer Hoekstra, injury prevention program coordinator at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

That includes ditching the bumper pads.

“Sure, they might look pretty. They might look fluffy. But we know the data is screaming at us that this is not safe,” she said. “We want to have a baby on a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet and no blankets or stuffed animals or bumpers of any kind.”

The study published online Nov. 24 in the Journal of Pediatrics, found 48 infant deaths from 1985 to 2012 could be specifically attributed to crib bumpers. And 32 of those deaths might have been prevented if crib bumpers had not been used, the researchers said.

Most of the babies suffocated, because their noses and mouths were covered by a bumper or they were between a bumper and a crib mattress.

“Crib bumpers are killing kids,” said Bradley T. Thach, MD, the lead author of the study. “Bumpers are more dangerous than we originally thought. The infant deaths we studied could have been prevented if the cribs were empty.”

Researchers found the recent spike in deaths when they compared the number of crib-bumper deaths reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the past few decades.

Twenty-three deaths were reported in the seven-year span from 2006 to 2012. In prior seven-year time spans, an average of eight deaths were reported.

Hoekstra agreed with the researchers’ call for a ban on crib bumpers.

“I think the real key here is we have to get stores to stop selling them,” she said. “A ban on crib bumpers would reinforce the message that no soft bedding of any kind should be placed in a baby’s bed.”

Crib bumpers initially were seen as a way to protect babies from slipping through or becoming entangled in crib slats. But since 1973, federal regulations have required that crib slats be narrow enough to prevent a baby’s head from going through them, Hoekstra said.

“There is no need for crib bumpers. They don’t serve any purpose,” she said. “A child is not going to get a serious injury from bumping his head or bumping his arm or bumping his leg on a crib slat.”

The study on crib bumper safety was conducted by Dr. Thatch, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis and two former researchers with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

It also found:

  • The average age of death was 4.6 months, with an age range of 1 to 22 months.
  •  Another 146 infants nearly suffocated, choked or strangled in incidents involving crib bumpers.

The researchers say they suspect the actual number of deaths and injuries caused by the bumpers may be higher that what has been reported, citing a lack of data on the topic through the decades.

Hoekstra encourages parents to put baby to sleep wearing a cozy sleep sack. And she said there are plenty of ways to create a welcoming place for baby that is also safe.

“You can still decorate your nursery very, very, very cute without putting bumper pads in the crib,” she said, recommending additional tips about a safe sleep environment from Tomorrow’s Child.