The parental instinct to protect our children is very strong from the time they are newborns. Most of us faithfully schedule all of the many pediatric check-ups to get baby vaccinated and check his growth. We wouldn’t dream of taking our bundle of joy for a ride in the car without her being securely strapped into an infant car seat tightly anchored in the back seat. Yet almost everyone puts their babies to sleep in a crib, potentially putting them in harm’s way every single night and naptime.
According to a new study at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, close to 10,000 children a year take a trip to the emergency room due to an injury caused by their crib, bassinet, or playpen.1 And one of the researchers said this number is actually an underestimate of the amount of injuries because it only takes hospital visits into consideration. Many more children involved in these accidents are taken to their pediatrician or a clinic, or they are never treated because the injuries are not grave.
The researchers examined records from emergency rooms in hospitals all over the United States for a period of 19 years. They discovered that more than 80 percent of the injuries taking place happened in cribs. Two-thirds of the crib accidents took place when a child — most often a toddler between one and two years old — fell or jumped from the crib. Another 15 percent of the injuries were the result of a fall within the crib or a laceration obtained while in the crib. Getting wedged or trapped within the crib accounted for another six percent of injuries.
Most of the accidents did not result in serious harm to the child. Approximately 33 percent of the injuries were from scrapes and bruises. However, about 14 percent of the resulting injuries were cuts and about 12 percent were bone fractures. Even more disturbing, approximately 20 percent of the incidents resulted in a concussion.
Only about one percent of the accidents were fatal, and of those, two-thirds were infants not yet six months old. The majority of these babies suffocated or died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Older crib models, made before a 2008 law banned the manufacture and sale of drop-side cribs with side rails, often cause these problems. The rails can detach to some extent, leaving a space between the mattress and the frame, in which an infant can get stuck. Although many of these models have been recalled, not everyone has gotten rid of their old crib. Another issue is the pillows and bumpers that some parents use to both decorate the crib and protect the baby from the hard wooden frame. Unfortunately, this soft bedding has also been linked to injury and suffocation in infants.
However, before you put your crib out on the curb and bring your baby into bed with you, keep in mind that co-sleeping isn’t always the safest option either. According to the March of Dimes, about half of all SIDS deaths take place when a baby is sharing a bed, sofa, or chair with a caregiver. Babies risk injury from co-sleeping by getting trapped in the bed frame or headboard as well as between the bed and a wall or another piece of furniture. They can also fall from the bed, suffocate from pillows and blankets being used, or end up with a parent rolling on top of them. It is especially unsafe to ever sleep with a baby if you have used drugs or alcohol.
Some researchers blame crib mattresses for the majority of SIDS cases. Dr. Jim Sprott, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, says the chemicals used to treat mattresses to make them fire retardant interact with a fungus that can grow in bedding and generate toxic gases. When a baby inhales too much of the gases, the central nervous system stops working, leading to cessation of all functioning organs and death. This theory, however, is just that as it has never been satisfactorily proven in a scientific study.
And in fact, SIDS rates have actually dropped tremendously since the 1980s, when that was the recorded cause of death for approximately 500 infants a year. Health campaigns that began in the early 1990s, such as Back to Sleep, have helped educate parents on SIDS and reduced SIDS deaths by 87 percent. Parents are taught to always place their baby on her back when going to sleep, rather than on her belly or side, to prevent obstructed breathing. Avoiding smoking during pregnancy and subjecting infants to secondhand smoke is also a SIDS safety measure.
Keeping your baby in a crib is still the best choice as long as you follow a few simple rules to keep him safe. Purchase a crib manufactured after 2008 or check the US Consumer Product Safety Commission website at www.cpsc.gov to make sure the crib you are using has never been recalled. Keep all soft bedding out of the crib. And once your little one is making an effort to climb out or is 35 inches tall, it’s time to switch to a toddler bed to prevent falls. Then you can rest easier and get a good night’s sleep too — if you’re lucky enough to have a child who sleeps through the night most of the time!
1 Yeh, Elaine S.; Rochette, Lynne M.; McKenzie, Lara B.; Smith, Gary A. “Injuries Associated With Cribs, Playpens, and Bassinets Among Young Children in the US, 1990-2008.” Pediatrics. 17 February 2011. American Academy of Pediatrics. 1 May 2011. <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/127/3/479?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=smith+crib+injuries&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT>.