You put your baby in a bassinet at your bedside and assume that it's a perfectly secure place to sleep. Although a new study shows that nearly half of all infants use them at some point in the first couple of months, parents may be shocked to learn that the government doesn't regulate this type of mini-crib.
According to the study, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) does have guidelines for bassinets, but the government has not created any safety standards (that is, rules companies are legally supposed to follow). So, that means any bassinet you buy may or may not conform to the CPSC's suggested construction guidelines simply because it doesn't have to — because bassinets have no government safety standards they're required to meet.
So, looking at almost 15 years of CPSC data (from 1990 to 2004), researchers wanted to find out how 53 babies had died in bassinets, which twice as many infants are sleeping in now than 15 years ago.
Some of the specifics they discovered about these babies' tragic deaths:
- Most (85%) died when they didn't get enough oxygen (e.g., suffocation and asphyxiation).
- Half were on their bellies (instead of their backs) when they were found dead.
- Almost 70% had soft bedding (like blankets and pillows) in their bassinets.
- A little more than 10% died in a child-care setting.
What This Means to You
Bassinets are just one place where babies might be injured or even die as they sleep — infants and young children can suffocate, strangle, and succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in cribs, cradles, play yards, playpens, and adult beds. (The sudden and unexplained death of an infant, SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants 1 month to 1 year old.)
To shed some light on this the problem, the CPSC recently released these statistics about infants' sleep environments:
- 97 babies and young children under age 5 died from 2000 through 2004 from crib-related deaths.
- 11,300 kids sustained injuries from cribs and crib mattresses in 2006.
- 1,100 injuries and 32 deaths in 2006 were linked to playpens and play yards (that were installed wrong; had soft bedding or cushions inside; had mattresses that didn't fit; or had cords, wires, and toy strings nearby).
But most of these injuries and deaths were probably preventable. To lower the risk of sleep-related tragedies in your family, make sure everyone who takes care of your little one — in and out of your home — follows these important safety precautions:
- Check to see if your bassinet is sturdy and meets CPSC guidelines: a strong bottom with a wide base, smooth surfaces without any hardware sticking out, legs that lock, and a mattress that's firm and fitting.
- Try to choose a bassinet with sides made of material that air can easily pass through, like mesh (since some of the babies in the bassinet study died when their faces were wedged against the bassinet's side).
- Follow the bassinet's weight and height requirements.
- Always place your baby to sleep on the back (never on the belly or the side) on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet — never on a pillow, waterbed, sheepskin, or other soft surface.
- Never put your baby to bed with blankets, comforters, quilts, plush toys, or pillows (that includes adult pillows, throw pillows, and infant donut pillows). If you use crib bumpers, opt for the kind that are mesh or tie at the top and bottom. Remove bumpers once your baby begins to pull up and stand.
- Never smoke or let anyone else smoke around your infant during pregnancy or after your baby is born (smoking boosts babies' risk of SIDS).
- Never prop your baby's head or neck up with pillows or soft items like rolled up towels (unless your doctor says otherwise).
- Never put extra mattresses, cushions, or pillows in playpens or play yards — use only the mattress provided.
- Never use an adult sheet. Use a crib sheet that fits snugly over the mattress but isn't too tight. Crib sheets — both those that are too big or too small — can come off and potentially get wrapped around babies' heads.
- Never use or buy a crib that's old, broken, or has been modified.
- Don't over-bundle your baby. Keep the room at a temperature that feels comfortable for an adult in a short-sleeve shirt.
- Don't put your baby to sleep in a bed. Instead, keep the crib or bassinet in your bedroom next to your bed. Bring your infant to your bed for nursing or comforting, but return your baby to the crib or bassinet to sleep. You also can buy a device that looks like a bassinet or play yard minus one side, which attaches to your bed to allow you to be near each other without the risks.
- Don't place your baby's sleep area near windows and anything your little one could get tangled in or strangle on (like electrical cords or cords from drapes or window shades). Strings or ribbons on crib mobiles or toys should be no longer than 7 inches. Remove mobiles once your baby begins to push up on the hands and knees, or by 5 months — whichever comes first.
- Make sure the mattress fits snugly, with no big gaps around the sides.
- Consider putting your infant to sleep sucking on a pacifier.
- Breastfeed — it reduces the risk of SIDS.
- Check the CPSC's website to make sure your crib, bassinet, playpen, or play yard hasn't been recalled. And always follow the assembly directions to a tee.
Granted, the list of do's and don'ts is long when it comes to where and how babies and young children should sleep. But understanding what to do — and not do — to keep tiny tots out of harm's way during their slumber is one of the most significant things you can do as a parent.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Source: "Bassinet Use and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy," Journal of Pediatrics, published online June 26, 2008.