New Bipartisan Senate Bill Aims to Take Down Crib Bumpers: ‘The Key Is Keeping Our Babies Safe’

crib-bumpers-safe-senate-bill-duckworth
For years, cribs were manufactured with a wide distance in between each slat. Parents were concerned their child’s head or limbs would get caught in the slats, or that the infant could fall out. Crib bumpers were marketed as a way to mitigate those concerns. But research shows an increase in the number of infant deaths related to crib bumpers. (boujiandnouna / Flickr)

Updated on March 24, 2022 at 2:45 p.m. PT: On Wednesday, the Senate approved a bipartisan measure banning the sale of crib bumpers. The bill will need to be voted on by the House of Representatives — which approved a related bill last year — before it can head to President Biden’s desk. 

For parents getting ready to bring a new little one home, there can be a long checklist of considerations and products to get. One of the biggest items on that checklist is the crib where the baby will sleep. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a mother of two, vividly remembers this experience. She recalls being gifted bedding sets for both of her daughters’ cribs. Those sets included crib bumpers, a product that line, and often pad, the perimeter of the crib. Initially, crib bumpers were created and sold for safety purposes, but research has shown it actually is harmful and can cause suffocation. 

“The one my daughter got had beautiful butterflies all over it, and you know, you want to install it,” Duckworth told Ms. “You think it’s got to be safe because it says on the outside ‘tested for safety’ … But it’s tested for fire retardant, it’s not tested for choking hazard.”

Research published in 2015 showed an increase in the number of infant deaths related to crib bumpers. The study analyzed data from 1985 to 2012 and saw a three time increase in bumper deaths from 2005 to 2012. The study noted that higher reporting rates could be a factor of this. 

For years, cribs were often manufactured with a wide distance in between each slat. Parents were concerned their child’s head or limbs would get caught in the slats, or that the infant could fall out. Crib bumpers were marketed as a way to mitigate those concerns. 

In 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated as many as 200 infants a year were dying because of poor crib design. Federal regulations implemented that same year required manufacturers and distributors to abide by a new series of rules, including a standardized slat distance and mattress size for cribs.

Pediatrician Dr. Poj Lysouvakon said those regulations alleviated the need for crib bumpers all together. And yet, even today, the products are still widely sold. 

“With the ease of online shopping and with us being so isolated COVID and having fewer in-person meetings with your pediatrician, it can be confusing out there,” said Lysouvakon. “I always tell parents, ‘half the stuff that’s out there you don’t need for your kid.’”

You think it’s got to be safe because it says on the outside “tested for safety” … But it’s tested for fire retardant, it’s not tested for choking hazard.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

A survey conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2020 showed a majority of parents in the study had heard of crib bumpers and nearly 65 percent had used the product for their children. 

Lysouvakon, who is the director for University of Chicago Medical Center’s Pediatric Injury Prevention Program says the best option for infant safety is to keep what is in the crib to a minimum. When in doubt, he recommends asking your physician. 

“We say nothing soft or squishy. So definitely no blankets, quilts, stuffed animals,” Lysouvakon said. “Nothing should be in the sleeping area with the baby; it should just be a plain, firm, flat surface with a fitted sheet.”

Another factor in why parents are still purchasing these products is well-intentioned, but outdated advice. 

“A lot of parents get hand-me-down information from family members, grandparents of newborn babies, where things are very different back then as to what they are nowadays, especially with these new federal regulations mandating the safety of how cribs are manufactured,” said Lysouvakon. “I think it’s really important parents reach out to their baby’s provider, pediatrician or other care provider just to get the straight facts that are evidence-based.”

This sentiment was echoed by Duckworth. 

“My mother-in-law was very excited; my eldest daughter is the first grandbaby of either family,” said Duckworth. “And when the baby was born, she quickly went out and found a gorgeous, portable, collapsible crib at a garage sale. … I had to tell her we can’t use it because it’s actually dangerous.”

As for Lysouvakon, he has been practicing medicine long enough to witness the issue of crib bumper safety taken to a legislative level, starting with his own city: Chicago. 

In 2011, the Chicago City Council ruled to ban the sale of crib bumpers, setting a trend a few states would follow. 

Now, action is happening at the federal level. 

Duckworth introduced bipartisan legislation alongside Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would stop the production, distribution and sales of crib bumpers in the U.S. This legislation, called the Safe Cribs Act, is similar to a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019.

On March 24, the Safe Cribs Act passed the Senate without amendment.

Sen. Duckworth now has her eyes set on ensuring this legislation makes it to President Biden’s desk. In a press release she said, “We should be doing everything we can to help new parents and prevent needless deaths.”

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About

Melissa Prax is a freelance journalist who specializes in women’s and disability issues. She uses a variety of mediums to tell stories, including video, print and digital — with an empathetic, analytical approach. She previously worked at the Columbus, Ohio, public media station and Scripps-affiliate Newsy. She has a bachelor’s degree in public affairs journalism from the Ohio State University.