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Crib bumpers were once sold in retail stores across the country and included in most crib bedding sets --- they were a staple of matching nursery decor.

Recent research on safe sleeping practices for infants has called the safety of crib bumpers into question, though, and a bill signed into law in May 2022 banned them nationwide, naming them a "hazardous product."

Confusion Around Crib Bumpers

Although, for years, pediatricians and sleep safety guidelines have recommended against using crib bumpers, many bedding sets continued including them, making things confusing for new parents.

Many products stated that they were tested for safety, but these claims referred to the safety of the materials used and that the products were free from choking hazards. The tests had nothing to do with sleep safety.

decorative crib bumpers around a baby crib

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The Dangers of Crib Bumpers

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains records on injuries and deaths caused by commercial products, including crib bumpers. One study found that 27 accidental deaths, from suffocation and strangulation, were attributed to crib bumper pads.

Bumper pads were also responsible for 25 non-fatal injuries, primarily minor contusions.

crib bumper pillows fallen over in a crib, safety hazard

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The Need for a Strict Preventative Approach

Although the dangers of crib bumpers were well-known, research indicates that public health recommendations were not effective at getting parents to stop using them, and quality control efforts by manufacturers did not improve safety.

This study also indicated three times as many deaths occurred in the seven years leading up to the 2016 study than in previous periods. Differences in reporting may have contributed to this increase, or it may indicate an actual increase in the number of deaths.

illustration showing warning no use by children up to three years,

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Suffocation Risk

The main issue with crib bumpers is that they are a suffocation risk.

Newborns and young infants lack the motor skills to turn their heads effectively. If an infant rolls over in a crib with a bumper, the baby's head can get pressed up against it, and their ability to get air could be blocked.

baby sleeping in crib at night

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Mesh Bumpers

The crib bumper ban does not include non-padded mesh crib liners, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend these, either.

Even mesh liners can come loose and pose a risk to the baby, and there is no evidence indicating that any type of crib bumper prevents injury.

baby crib with mesh bumpers around bars

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Why Crib Bumpers Became Popular

Although there is no evidence supporting the use of crib bumpers, many parents are concerned their babies will get hurt or stuck between the slats if there aren't bumpers.

The best way to avoid this is to ensure the crib slats are a safe distance apart. There should be no more than 2-3/8 inches of space between the slats to prevent the baby's head from getting trapped. All cribs made after June 2011 must meet this requirement.

vintage crib with bumpers

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Alternatives to Crib Bumpers

In addition to using a crib with safe crib slat spacing, parents have a few other options if they are looking for an alternative to crib bumpers.

Swaddles are an effective alternative for newborns and younger infants. They keep the baby's arms and legs secured, preventing them from getting stuck between the crib slats. Older infants may not like to be swaddled, so a sleep sack or wearable blanket is a good alternative.

little boy checking on his baby brother in crib

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Crib Safety

Parents can take other measures regarding crib safety to ensure their infants remain safe while sleeping.

Crib mattresses should fit snugly so the baby cannot get trapped between the side of the crib and the mattress. Ensure that all hardware is installed correctly and nothing is missing or loose. Headboards and footboards should be solid with no decorative cutouts, and corner posts should be 1/16 inch or shorter to prevent clothing from getting caught.

toddler trying to get out of her wooden crib

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Bedding Safety

In addition to avoiding crib bumpers, parents and caregivers should also be careful with bedding.

Use only a fitted sheet made explicitly for the size of the crib. Place infants under a year old on their backs to sleep, and do not put any stuffed toys, pillows, blankets, or sheepskins in the crib.

baby sleeping in a crib with no blankets or pillows

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Making Sense of Mixed Signals

Crib bumpers remained on the market even after pediatricians and the AAP recommended against their use, resulting in the 2022 legislation banning them.

Parents who are still using them or received a hand-me-down set should remove the crib bumpers from their child's crib immediately, and research to ensure the crib and bedding meet all other current standards.

couple preparing their baby's crib

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.