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Anyone else have a terror-fueled desperate relationship with crib bumpers?
On one hand, they seem so irresistibly handsome…
- They keep baby’s arms and legs from getting stuck in the slats, sending off a 3am screamfest that’s hard to recover from.
- They prevent headbanging crib parties during blissful nap times.
- They corral the pacifiers, increasing the chances baby will find one on his own.
- They block baby’s view of us when we’re using gentle sleep coaching techniques.
On the other hand, crib bumpers have a dark side that’s hard to ignore.
- A new study in Pediatrics said that unintentional suffocation is the leading cause of injury death in infants, and of those tragic deaths, 69% involved soft bedding. (Which is more than just crib bumpers, but does involve crib bumpers, so is worth mentioning.)
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that there were 282 injuries and 107 baby deaths associated with crib bumpers. *shudder*
- The American Association of Pediatrics doesn’t mince words: They say crib bumpers are a no-go.
It’s easy to ditch the crib bumpers after reading statistics like that. Who wants to take the risk?
That said… when you’ve not slept in weeks, justification can come creeping in with plenty of tempting words like “it won’t happen to us,” or “it’s such a small minority…”
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all or none.
There may be a safe sleeping compromise out there that fits your family! My job today is to help you ferret it out!
What Exactly are Crib Bumpers?
First, let’s define our terms.
Crib bumpers are traditionally referred to as a bolt of fabric that goes around the inside of the crib, protecting your baby’s tender noggin from the hard slats of the crib.
They were originally created to keep a baby’s head from falling through or getting stuck between the slats of the crib. Nowadays, though, there’s regulation on crib slat width, which means the original intent is no longer necessary.
In the past, these have gotten very pillow-y in form. See the picture below? This is a huge no-no.
Your baby’s little head could get caught between the pillow and the mattress, creating a re-breathing situation that may be linked to SIDS.
Are Crib Bumpers Safe for a Newborn?
I’ll be honest. This question is a moot point because your newborn doesn’t need crib bumpers.
He’s a cute little caterpillar. He doesn’t roll, shift, or move. You put him down, and he pretty much stays put until you pick him up again. (Enjoy this stage, btw. It’s heavenly.)
There’s no problem to solve here (other than perhaps for aesthetic reasons, and that’s frankly not worth the risk). So ditch the crib bumpers.
If your newborn is struggling to sleep, crib bumpers aren’t going to make a difference. Instead, let me put my Certified Gentle Sleep Coach hat on (yes, that’s a real thing and I have the education to prove it).
Find Your Newborn’s Daily Rhythm
The first thing I would suggest is to go here and use my free worksheets to figure out your baby’s natural daily rhythms. That will help you get to know your unique baby and learn the cues and messages your baby is already telling you.
Get a Really Good Swaddle
Getting a really good swaddle is the next best thing you can do for your newborn. Your baby has been tightly compressed (like a little frog!) for months. The wide open space of the crib can be very unnerving for the little thing!
This is my favorite swaddle, the one I recommend to my sleep coaching clients. Why do I recommend it so highly?
- It has a precise weight on the front, designed to fool those babies who hate sleeping on their back, by making them feel they are in your arms instead. #MomSmarts
- It has removable arms, so when it’s time to stop swaddling (when baby starts to roll), you can do so easily following my simple weaning suggestions.
Are Crib Bumpers Safe for Babies?
After your baby grows out of the newborn stage (usually around 20-24 weeks), there’s usually a huge growth spurt that destroys everyone’s happy sleeping.
This is referred to as the 4-month sleep regression, and it’s a doozy. It’s around this time when parents will often start fantasizing about those standard crib bumpers again.
Resist! It’s possible to help your child through this regression without crib bumpers. The science says that traditional crib bumpers are just too risky to use in the crib.
- Read through my article on sleep regressions, particularly about making sure your baby doesn’t get overtired during the day. (Which turns into a screamfest during the Witching Hours of 7-10pm).
- If napping is an issue, learn my best Certified Gentle Sleep Coaching tips on getting longer naps more consistently.
- Let your child practice lifting the binky to his mouth during the day and then leave a farm of them scattered around the crib at night.
- If your baby is stimulated by your presence when you’re using the gentle Sleep Shuffle, attach some command strips on the ceiling to a cheap shower curtain to stay out of sight without having to leave the room.
Are Crib Bumpers Safe for Toddlers?
When it comes to crib bumpers and toddlers, the main issue is usually not rebreathing or suffocation. Your 1 year old is strong enough to move around in the crib, making that (usually) a moot point.
No, the main issue when it comes to crib bumpers and toddlers is climbing. Smarty-pants toddlers will use the extra fabric as a stepping stool to get out of the crib entirely. And that is not cool beans. Not only is letting your toddler roam the room unsupervised a bad idea, he could fall and have a head injury.
This is the crib tent I recommend to sleep coaching clients with adventurous climbing toddlers. It is safe to use and does a great job of containing all the curiosity. 🙂
Crib Bumper Alternatives
Okay, so I think we’ve established that the traditional crib bumper pads are not a safe sleeping option for your baby. But what about crib bumper alternatives?
The AAP still strongly recommends parents avoid using crib bumpers of any kind, including the mesh ones, fearing that babies may get entangled in loose fabric or get caught up in the strings that tie them to the crib.
However, if you are really struggling, there are some crib bumper alternatives you could look at.
Crib Bumpers vs. Mesh Liner
The purpose of the mesh liner is to keep your baby’s arms and legs from getting stuck between the slats in the middle of the night. The mesh liner does not offer any protection for head-banging babies, but is effect against those contortionist sleepers.
Crib Bumpers vs. Padded Slats
Where the mesh liner falls down, the padded slats deliver. These crib bumper alternatives are designed to help the head-banging babies. They zip closed, as opposed to being tied, which does eliminate another one of the safety concerns.
There is plenty of breathable space in between the slats, however they could be smushed down and used for climbing, so be careful with toddlers.
Crib Bumpers vs. Rail Covers
Rail covers are different from crib bumpers. Rail covers sit on the top of the rail, which means your baby still has all kinds of breathing space down by the mattress.
The purpose of the rail cover is to prevent your toddler from banging his head on the top railing and provides a washable cover for teething babies, who like to gnaw on the railing like tiny little beavers.
These covers are tied in place, so make sure those knots are super tight! They can also be used to help climbing toddlers escape, so consider pairing them with a good crib tent.
Crib Bumpers vs. Braided Crib Bumpers
The newest style for crib bumpers is the braided crib bumper, which looks exactly like what you see above.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan.
It looks cool, sure, but I see a lot of the same safety problems that have been cited with the traditional crib bumpers. My advice? Skip them.
Crib Bumpers vs. Bed Bumpers
Bed bumpers are exactly what they sound like. They are special bumpers designed to help toddlers who have transitioned to a regular bed from falling out of said bed.
There are two types of portable bed bumpers for parents to choose from:
The CPSC has issued safety guidelines to help parents make sure they are using bed bumpers safely with young children. Firstly, you shouldn’t use bed bumpers for children younger than two years old (between 2 and 5 is optimal).
Secondly, make sure there is no gap between the rail and the mattress the child is sleeping into. Fatalities can occur if the child slips into a gap between the mattress and the rail and suffocate. So make sure everything is tight and secure before tucking your little one into bed!
If you haven’t got one already, pick up a video monitor you can stream to your phone. This way you have an eye on everything all the time.
Crib Bumpers May Be Banned in 2022
As of this writing, most parents can choose whether or not they want to use crib bumpers. That’s changing, though. The Safe Cribs Act passed the House of Representatives in 2021 and is currently awaiting action in the Senate. Passage of this law would make manufacturing padded bumper pads illegal in 2022.
In fact, several states and cities have already jumped ahead and banned the sale of crib bumpers, including Ohio, Maryland, New York, the city of Chicago, and Watchcung, NJ.
If you’re relying on crib bumpers to improve your baby’s sleep, now is the time to use some of these other sleep techniques to safely improve those habits!
Whether you decide to ditch the use of crib bumpers entirely, or use one of the safer crib bumper alternatives, make sure you’re following the AAP’s safe sleeping guidelines.
Remember, a clutter-free crib is a safe crib!
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Sleep-Related Infant Suffocation Deaths Attributable to Soft Bedding, Overlay, and Wedging. Pediatrics.com
Joint Statement of Chairmans recommending Parents and Caregivers Not Use Padded Crib Bumpers. CPSC.gov
Are Bedding and Rebreathing Suffocation a Cause of SIDS? NIH.gov
Help Your Baby Sleep Soundly so You Can Sleep Soundly. HealthyChildren.org
Ohio Crib Bumper Ban Goes into Effect. KidsInDanger.org
Crib Bumper Pads Banned in New York as Cuomo Signs Package of Bills Protecting Babies. NYDailyNews.com
Council Bans Sale of Crib Bumper Pads in Chicago. ChicagoTribune.com
Bed Rail Safety. CPSC.gov
CPSC Adopts New Federal Standards for Portable Bed Rails. CPSC.gov
Safe Cribs Act. GovTrack.us