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What We Learned from the Rock n’ Play Recall

Many people have heard about the Rock n’ Play recall. But the story is a lot bigger than the recall. It’s also about inclined sleep and many products that haven’t been recalled. It’s about how we learned about the risks of the RnP. About the CPSC and consumer reports. It’s about severe sleep deprivation and parents who need options.

The Rock n’ Play Recall

On October 31, 2019, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned consumers against using any inclined infant sleepers. This followed an investigation by Consumer Reports in April 2019, raising concerns about the safety of these products. While the initial focus was on the enormously popular Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper, the current proposal is to ban the sale and use of all inclined sleepers that have been, to date, linked to 73 infant deaths. This applies to any sleep location for babies that is at a greater than 10% incline and includes brands such as: 

  • Fisher Price
  • Graco 
  • Evenflo 
  • Summer Infant
  • Kids II
  • Chicco

To be clear, not all inclined infant sleepers have been recalled. However if your baby is sleeping in something with a greater than 10% incline you should stop using this product even if it hasn’t yet been recalled

The Bigger Picture – How Did This Happen?

Truthfully, I didn’t pay close enough attention to the RnP. I didn’t realize how popular they were (4.7 M sold is staggering). I assumed large, reputable manufacturing companies had rigorous research and testing policies. I assumed the CPSC was monitoring and providing information concerning product safety. All of my assumptions were wrong.

The only reason we know about the tragedy of the RnP is due to exceptional reporting from Consumer Reports. Their report is a long hard read but I encourage you to make the time because it is essential. And enormously concerning:

  • The CPSC issued no warnings about the RnP despite years of mounting evidence of risks, because of laws that require the CPSC to:
    •  Get permission before releasing information about a company even in cases involving injury or death, and
    •  Get the  manufacturer’s agreement to recall a product.
  • Consumer Reports was analyzing data from the CPSC (something they do routinely) and they mistakenly received unredacted data that included manufacturers and product names. Normally the data is redacted to protect the manufacturers. 
  • Only because of this clerical mistake did the number of deaths attributed to the RnP (and other inclined sleepers) come to light. 
  • The CPSC lawyers demanded Consumer Reports destroy the data and not publish anything about it.
  • On Monday April 8, 2019 Consumer Reports did publish their findings highlighting the product risks.  This report made national news with major organizations, including the AAP, also calling for the recall.  
  • Facing mounting public pressure Fisher Price and the CPSC recalled the RnP 5 days later.

The only reason we know about the hazards associated with this product was because of Consumer Reports. Full stop. Had the CPSC not accidentally shared unredacted data, it would never have come to light. Even as more and more concerns came to light, Fisher Price staunchly stood behind their product.

It’s impossible to look at how this developed and not come to the conclusion that the laws governing the CPSC benefit manufacturers at the cost of our health and safety.

Also, if you are as impressed with Consumer Reports as I am, you can thank them by becoming a member.

What About Baby Swings?

I have long been a proponent of swings. While acknowledging that the gold standard for safety is an empty crib, I had felt there was a lack of good fall back options. When the crib doesn’t work, parents invariably hit a wall of desperation. How long can you wake up 8X a night? Then what? What is Plan B?

Sometimes co-sleeping helps. Co-sleeping also increases the risk of SIDS even when parents exclusively breastfeed and don’t smoke. Many parents end up on chairs or couches in the living room sleeping with infants on their chest, which is enormously risky. With my first we solved the issue by driving around for hours in the middle of the night for months. In hindsight I’m staggered that we did this and to this day, am grateful this didn’t end in tragedy.

Infant swings are highly effective and were promoted heavily for years by Dr. Karp. When my kids were babies, swings broke us out of far worse behaviors. While there is scant research on swings, the few cases provided always involved egregiously unsafe use (ex. premature twins in a single swing with blankets). The little information made available by the CPSC suggested swings were quite safe. Thus for a long time this was my suggestion for Plan B.

However, due to the hazard profile that has come to light regarding inclined sleep I can no longer advocate for angled infant swings. I encourage all parents to discontinue their use immediately.

I am in process of updating my blog and book to reflect this change. 

What About Flat Swings?

Since my book was published, several manufacturers have released flat bassinets that provide continuous motion. In theory, these comply with the regulations for bassinets and should be as safe as a non-moving sleep space. However the safety regulations for bassinets are much less rigid than for cribs. And the risks/issues of continuous motion bassinets are currently unknown. There are potential risks of entrapment or a newborn rolling into a facedown position due to motion. 

The most popular moving bassinet is the SNOO, a product designed by Dr. Karp. I know many parents are huge fans of the SNOO. I know many others who felt it wasn’t much better than a standard bassinet. Personally, I struggle to swallow the exorbitant price tag. At this time Graco and mamaRoo also have flat motorized bassinets available, and more are expected to enter the market .

What Is Plan B Now?

Nothing is more important than our children’s safety. But we need to acknowledge that there are limits to human endurance. Desperate exhaustion leads to unsafe situations, so the idea that parents should soldier through is nonsense. I’ve worked with families who were so tired they were hallucinating; who backed the car into the garage door; who were crushed by depression and anxiety, challenges exacerbated by severe exhaustion.

This is why many of the best-selling baby products on Amazon are safety hazards. It’s how Fisher Price sold 4.7M Rock n’ Plays. It’s not that parents don’t know or care, it’s that they’re pushed beyond their limits and desperate for answers.

So where does that leave us? 

Good sleep hygiene. 

Independent sleep. 

Sooner rather than later.

Using SWAPS at a very young age, starting at 2-4 months to gradually establish independent sleep. As soon as a consistent bedtime starts to emerge.  I’ve long been an advocate of doing so to solve problems, and am going to be more vocal about how doing so prevents problems. We can in fact, set up our babies for sleep success before we hit the wall.

Parents deserve more research and transparency. We need regulations that are driven by science instead of manufacturers. We need confidence that the CPSC is more concerned with the safety of our children than the reputations of large corporations. We need better funding for sleep and safety.

In the meantime let’s try not to hit the wall by setting our kids up for sleep success. Which can happen, sooner than you think.

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