Inclined Sleepers Banned: What You Need to Know and How to Keep Your Infant Safe
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
Inclined infant sleepers gained popularity after Fisher-Price introduced the Rock ‘n Play in 2009. The sleeper was praised for helping infants sleep faster and longer due to its “nest-like” comfort, the inclined resting position, and the automatic rocking feature.1 However, the Rock ‘n Play and similar inclined infant sleepers came under scrutiny after reports of infant deaths while using the sleepers unsupervised. The Rock ‘n Play recall was massive, pulling nearly 5 million dangerous sleepers off the market after being tied to over 70 infant deaths.2 You may have heard about or seen reports of inclined sleeper recalls over the last several years, but recent legislative developments have raised the bar for safety to prevent inclined infant sleepers from being manufactured or sold in the U.S. This article will explain how inclined infant sleepers went from the go-to product for parents to a federally banned product pulled off of shelves and prohibited from resale.
The Beginning of the End: Research Studies Confirm the Hazards of Inclined Sleepers
In 2019, after the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play recall and the similar Kids II rocking sleeper recall3, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) commissioned a study into the safety of inclined infant sleepers4. The CPSC is the government entity charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death from hazardous consumer products. In the CPSC study, researchers studied whether babies move differently in inclined sleepers, and they discovered that babies were sometimes found on their tummies (meaning a roll had occurred).5 Additionally, the plush sides of the product could affect infant breathing, which increases the risk of SIDS. Even without rolling onto their tummies, infants using inclined sleepers were at risk of asphyxia because their disproportionately heavy heads tend to fall forward at a steep angle, which can block or occlude a baby’s airway and is not conducive to oxygen flow.6
Following the study, the CPSC emphasized the importance of babies sleeping on their backs on a firm, flat surface in a crib, bassinet, or play yard, without the addition of blankets, pillows, or other items. The CPSC recommended that no infant sleep products with more than a 10-degree recline should be sold, and Consumer Reports7 concluded that all inclined infant sleepers should be recalled due to risk of suffocation and death. Most inclined sleepers on the market at that time had an incline of up to 30 degrees, and they were repeatedly linked to infant deaths from suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Soon after the release of the study and CPSC recommendation, multiple other manufacturers also issued recalls8 of inclined infant sleepers due to risk of suffocation and death.
From Consumer Recalls to Federal Legislation
By the time studies emerged confirming the danger of inclined sleepers, the market had already been flooded with these types of products. Though the severity of the risks were understood and confirmed, manufacturers, sellers, and consumers did not act quickly or efficiently in getting the products off shelves or online used marketplaces. Many of the dangerous sleepers were not accounted for9 because some consumers kept the products or potentially resold them to parents who were unaware of the recall.
Due to the serious nature of the recall and the number of unaccounted for inclined infant sleepers in the marketplace, President Joe Biden signed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021 (SSBA) into law in May 2022. The new law emphasizes the need to stay on top of industry developments. The law bans the manufacture and sale of inclined sleepers and crib bumpers. More specifically, the law10 defines banned inclined sleepers as products that were designed for an infant up to one year old with “an inclined sleep surface of greater than 10 degrees.” Also banned for risk of suffocation, crib bumpers were defined as “padded materials inserted around the inside of a crib and intended to prevent the crib occupant from becoming trapped in any part of the crib’s openings.”
Final Rules Implemented in 2023
The rules of the SSBA went into effect on November 12, 2022, but the 2023 CPSC Final Rules provide clarification for the implementation of the SSBA. The final rule, 16 CFR 1310, details the specific terms for banned products (clarifying inclined sleepers are any with a greater than 10 degree sleep surface incline)11. The Rule is effective as of September 15, 2023.
The final rules offer definitions for infant sleepers and crib bumpers that are covered by the rule. “Infant sleepers for infants” are products with inclined sleep surfaces greater than ten degrees, which are intended, marketed, or designed to provide sleeping accommodations or infants up to one year old. Crib bumpers include any material intended to cover the sides of a crib to prevent injury to a crib occupant or prevent access to openings in the sides of a crib.
The SSBA prohibits the sale of inclined sleepers and crib bumpers, as well as the manufacture, sale, distribution, and importation into the U.S. Further efforts by the CPSC since the SSBA came into effect last year include conducting a comprehensive outreach effort to manufacturers, importers, and sellers to enforce the new law. The CPSC is educating them about the requirements and ensuring awareness and understanding of compliance obligations. Additionally, the CPSC standard for safe infant sleep products includes more stringent components and requires any infant sleep products that did not already meet the requirements of an existing CPSC sleep standard must be tested to confirm that the angle of the sleep surface is 10 degrees or lower and that they comply with the agency’s safety standard for bassinets and cradles.12
Safe Sleep for Infants
Though the SSBA specifically speaks to inclined infant sleepers (designed with the intent of sleeping), it’s important to place the intent behind the rule in the context of other infant products that – though not intended for sleeping – are often used for sleeping. The CPSC rules also advised parents not to let babies sleep in strollers, car seats, or swings. Infants frequently fall asleep in their car seats. Car seats for infants are designed to be rear-facing for safety. On long car rides, a sleeping baby in the back may be quieter, but it also means there is greater potential for infant suffocation, as the car seat is acting as an inclined sleeper in this case. With a greater than 10 percent incline, the same risks exist, so extra care should be taken to check on your infant frequently if they’re sleeping in a car seat. Car seats are necessary to keep infants and children safe in the event of a collision, but they are only intended to be used while you’re with your baby and observing them, and not for extended or overnight sleep.13 One aspect of car seats that makes them less risky than inclined sleepers in the event that your infant falls asleep for short periods of time is the inclusion of a five-point harness system. Five-point harness systems are the key to maintaining proper and safe positioning for infants that don’t have neck or torso strength to keep their head upright. This system minimizes the risks of blocking airflow when an infant falls asleep in the seat and slumps down somewhat. That said, experts still conclude that car seats are not appropriate for extended, unobserved sleep for the same rationale behind the Safe Sleep for Babies Act.
Parents should not use or purchase inclined infant sleepers, including those found at secondhand shops or online used marketplaces because they have likely been recalled and are unsafe for sleep. Parents are also generally advised not to allow infants to sleep unsupervised in products not approved for sleep, such as loungers, pillows, positioners, and car-seats.
If you purchased an inclined infant sleeper before or after the ban was instituted, an attorney may help you understand whether you have a claim against the manufacturer or seller of the product. I am sorry if you are reading this because your child was injured or died while using an inclined infant sleeper. Over my career, I have successfully resolved many child injury claims, and I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.
2 https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2019/Fisher-Price-Recalls-Rock-n-Play-Sleepers-Due-to-Reports-of-Deaths and https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2023/Fisher-Price-Reannounces-Recall-of-4-7-Million-Rock-n-Play-Sleepers-At-Least-Eight-Deaths-Occurred-After-Recall