Safe Sleep

Fisher-Price Rock 'N Play sleeper, in a story about how Rock 'N Play sleepers are still for sale onl...
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Why Is A Product Linked To The Deaths Of 100 Babies Still Being Bought & Sold On Facebook?

“If you’re a parent who thinks what happened to those other 100 families can’t happen to you, think again.”

Originally Published: 

When the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play was introduced in 2009, it had everything a new parent could want. Its lightweight frame and foldability meant you could move it easily around your house. Sleeping on a flat surface can trigger an infant's startle reflex, but the soft hammock of the Rock ’n Play, with its slight incline, helped newborns sleep deeper and for longer. Later models could plug in and rock mechanically while tired parents were in the other room. It sang. It shushed. Countless parents said it was the only place their newborn would sleep, calling it a must-have and a life-saver. And today, it’s linked to the deaths of approximately 100 infants, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is calling on Meta and Fisher-Price to take action.

On April 12, 2019, the CPSC recalled the Rock ’n Play after more than 30 infants died while using the product. It had been on the market for 10 years at that point, and 4.7 million Rock ’n Plays had been sold to new and expecting parents (and babysitters, and grandparents), but fewer than 400,000 were returned to Fisher-Price. This left millions unaccounted for. Cut to Jan. 9, 2023: the CPSC took the rare step of re-announcing the Rock ’n Play recall because 70 more infant deaths had come to light since 2019, at least eight of which happened after the recall was issued. A statement from CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric urged all caregivers to stop using the product immediately, and noted that it was illegal to distribute recalled products, including reselling in person or online. “I urge all stores, including online marketplaces, to review the products being donated or listed and stop all recalled products from being sold,” he writes.

On April 12, 2023, Hoehn-Saric released yet another statement in which he specifically called out Meta for “not doing enough” to stop the resale of recalled products on Facebook Marketplace. “Your company has the resources and the technology to prevent these listings from appearing in the first place,” he said. “I urge you to do more to stop the illegal sale of recalled consumer products on your marketplace to prevent additional infant deaths and injuries.” On Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, four members of Congress sent a letter directly to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, chastising the company for doing nothing to stop the resale of recalled products, namely the Rock ‘n Play and Boppy Newborn Lounger.

“To date, the volume of takedown requests has not slowed, and CPSC staff is unaware of any proactive measures Meta has taken to prevent these postings in the future,” said the letter, signed by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican; the House Energy and Commerce Committee chair, Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat; the panel’s ranking member, Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.; and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

“They can’t be sold at all, whether it’s new, used, online, you selling it at a garage sale, or donating it, it’s illegal now,” says Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger (KID), a nonprofit organization that advocates for safer product design for children. “In addition, it has been illegal for over a decade to sell a recalled product, which these are now, because they are deadly. But they’re still everywhere.”

In June 2021, the CPSC approved a federal rule requiring any product marketed or intended for sleep for infants 5 months and younger to have a sleep surface with an angle of no more than 10 degrees (though the CPSC still considers a completely flat surface the gold standard). The products must also meet the same safety standards as cribs and bassinets, which was not required before. President Joe Biden signed the The Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021 in May 2022, which bans the manufacture and sale of inclined sleepers and crib bumpers.

After the April 2019 Rock ’n Play recall, researchers began investigating why inclined sleepers pose such a risk for babies. A University of Arkansas study commissioned by the CPSC discovered that infants can sometimes roll to their stomachs in the sleeper, but they don’t have the strength to return to their backs, becoming trapped and suffocating. The study concluded by saying that “none of the inclined sleep products that were tested and evaluated as a part of this study are safe for infant sleep.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also reported that while some of the deaths leading to the initial Rock ’n Play recall occurred after infants rolled over in the product while unrestrained, others were “unable to breathe because of their position. [...] With the head elevated, an infant is in a position that could lead to asphyxia.” In other words, if someone in your Facebook mom group tells you that the risk when using an inclined sleeper comes from user error, they are wrong.

Cowles says that there are two powerful myths that perpetuate the reselling of unsafe sleep products, even by those who are aware of the recall:

  1. Only parents who use the product incorrectly risk their babies dying. Just how sleeping in a car seat puts a newborn at risk for positional asphyxia, resting in an inclined sleeper also puts young babies in that chin-to-chest position. This means using an inclined sleeper, even according to the user manual’s guidance, is inherently unsafe.
  2. Companies describe products as being safe for sleep as long as a caregiver is supervising the child. As Per Cowles, realistically...“it’s not going to be used that way.”
A Facebook Marketplace listing which incorrectly states that the Rock ‘n Play can still be used safely with supervision.

In fact, supervision is sometimes not enough to prevent a tragedy. “With crib bumpers, we’ve worked with a family whose baby died and the mother was sitting in the rocker right next to the crib. It’s a silent thing,” Cowles says.

A quick browse of Facebook Marketplace, parenting swap and resale groups, and other platforms like OfferUp reveals a startling number of inclined sleepers are currently listed for sale on the sites. The CPSC chair’s statement about the renewed recall specifically called out online marketplaces and resale platforms, asking them to review the products listed on their sites and stop the sale of Rock ’n Plays and similar models.

Cowles says that she met with Facebook in February 2020 to discuss this very problem on behalf of Kids In Danger, but hasn’t seen much progress. “They set it up, and they should be able to make sure it’s safe,” she says. “It seems they now have an algorithm that must have ‘Rock ’n Play’ in it, because you’ll see people purposely misspelling it to still post it for sale. And that has only happened after a lot of pressure from CPSC and other organizations.”

Even if Facebook is filtering out sale posts with "Rock ’n Play" in the language of the listing, sellers can easily leave out the brand name and get the product posted, or call it something vague like a 'rocking bassinet' so as to outsmart the algorithm. Things get even harder to police when recalled sleepers, like ones from Kids II, have so many brand and model names, with generic language like Ingenuity, Bright Starts, and more.

Over email, Ashley Settle, a representative for Meta told Romper that Facebook uses, as Cowles intuited, an “automated commerce review system” to filter out listings that don’t comply with their policies before they’re posted. Facebook’s commerce policies state they don’t allow the sale of recalled items on Marketplace. When a seller creates a listing on Marketplace, they must affirm that the listing complies with those policies and “all applicable laws.”

And if they don't? “We also recommend people report any items they think may violate our policies by clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of any listing," says Meta's rep. Like so many of their other trust and safety policies, compliance relies on users to self-report violations — which assumes not only a passing awareness of consumer safety policy and “applicable laws,” but the time and effort to flag a post and enter it into a queue, where it undergoes an opaque process without guaranteed results.

Of course, many people reselling inclined sleepers may simply not know about the recalls and new safe sleep legislation.

Cowles, for her part, says she knows that many parents who have lost their children to recalled products now spend time reporting listings on online marketplaces, and reaching out to the sellers to take them down.

“Recalled products are prohibited on OfferUp,” says Keith Carpenter, a spokesperson for the platform, in an email to Romper. “OfferUp has systems to proactively identify and remove all types of prohibited items, and we actively work with the CPSC and manufacturers to find and remove recalled products. As with other types of items prohibited under our policies, we may not always identify recalled items immediately, and we encourage users to report any prohibited items, including recalled products, to assist in finding and removing them.”

Note the use of “baby rocker” vs. Rock n’ Play to get around Facebook filters.

Ultimately, the responsibility of getting unsafe products out of families’ homes lies with the manufacturers, says Cowles, and recall effectiveness is not what it should be. She estimates that with most children’s products, only 10% to 30% will be accounted for with a recall. “We’re always asking companies to do more — like using influencers they used to sell a product to announce the recall — and for CPSC to hold companies accountable for doing ineffective recalls. It shouldn’t be up to parents; it should be up to companies to get those products off the market.”

CPSC Chair Hoehn-Saric also called on Fisher-Price to reannounce the recall, and fully refund consumers to encourage more of them to return the product. “Fisher Price clearly has not done enough to incentivize consumers to act upon the recall. Nor have the company’s actions deterred a secondary market for this product,” said Hoehn-Saric. “It is incumbent on Fisher Price to motivate consumers to stop using the Rock ‘n Play and to destroy unused Rock ‘n Plays that may be in their homes. A refund of the full purchase price of the Rock ‘n Play would be a good start in achieving these outcomes.”

That said, platforms with online marketplaces could play a powerful role in saving young lives. “Let’s take responsibility for getting the word out to people. The platforms could be helpful with that,” says Cowles. “I think they know how to get the information they need and could figure out the technology behind making sure those who need to know, know.” Indeed, given the surveillance of targeted advertising, the tools to track, identify, and inform recalled product owners already exist and are how companies like Meta make their money.

There are safe ways to buy baby products secondhand.

Buying (and selling) baby products secondhand can save you some serious money, but you do need to inspect the items more closely than you might if they were purchased new from a retailer, who is subject to the new safe sleep regulations put in place the last few years. Taking extra steps to research a product and look it over closely before purchasing could mean the difference between buying something safe or something potentially fatal.

For starters, experts encourage buyers to read up on CPSC and AAP safe sleep guidelines and the specifics of that new 2021 rule for safe sleep products (like that they must have a flat sleep surface and a stable base). “Following these guidelines can take some of the guesswork out of shopping for parents,” says Jessica Winberry, prevention coordinator with THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, which focuses on reducing preventable injuries for children. “Now, if something is going to be designed for sleep, it has to meet the standards those three products meet (cribs, bassinets, and play yards). Rocking, inclined sleepers are never going to qualify.”

Some other things to do when shopping for sleep products secondhand, Winberry and Cowles say, include:

  • Search the product on, a CPSC database. It includes recall information and incident reports, which can describe issues parents have had with products that haven’t been recalled yet but may be in the future.
  • Find the model number on the product and search for the owner’s manual for that specific product online, then read the safety recommendations for it.
  • Compare cribs you don’t know the age of to current safety standards. For example, if your family passes down an heirloom crib, or you come across one at a yard sale, measure the slats to ensure there’s no more than 2 ⅜ inches of space between them.
  • Look for a manufacture date on the inside of the head board or foot board. Cowles says it is illegal to sell or donate cribs made before July 28, 2011, because they do not meet current safety standards. If you can’t find a date the crib is too old to be safe, Cowles says, as those dates have been required to be printed on the product for years.
  • Look closely for any broken parts or missing hardware. An otherwise safe product, if its integrity is in question, should be considered unsafe.
  • Inspect fabric for rips, tears, or loose threads.
  • If the product comes with a mattress, check to make sure they’re designed to be used together, and that it fights tightly inside.
  • Read reviews for the product online to see if other parents have had bad or scary experiences with it.

Make sure you also share safe sleep information, including how to choose and use a sleep product safely, with anyone who will be caring for your little one. “One thing to remember is that we’re not the only ones taking care of our babies,” Winberry says. “Make sure current safety information is shared with anyone watching your baby.”

If you’re a parent who thinks what happened to those other 100 families can’t happen to you, these experts urge you to think again.

“I don’t want to give any illusion that using this is a good idea,” Winberry says. “The AAP recommendations, the rulings from the CPSC, these things are here for a reason. We do things based on research, and research shows there are three items that are deemed safe sleep environments for our babies: cribs, bassinets, and pack and plays.”

There are ways to dispose of your Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play responsibly.

If you have a Rock ’n Play, CPSC recommends contacting Fisher-Price customer service at 866-812-6518. They will send you a prepaid mailer and request that you ship back the two circular hubs from the sleeper’s legs. If you bought it new, include the receipt to receive a refund. If you have a different recalled incline sleeper, contact that manufacturer to learn about their process.

Both experts agree returning the parts to Fisher-Price is the best way to ensure the Rock ’n Play stays out of another parent’s house. If you’re wondering how to dispose of the Rock ’n Play yourself, you’ll need to take extra precautions so no one picks it up off the curb and takes it home. Winberry recommends slashing the fabric cover and straps so they are no longer usable, then disassembling the product as much as possible and placing the parts in black trash bags.

Until the companies making sleep products for infants, and the online marketplaces facilitating their resale, are prepared to take responsibility for keeping babies safe, parents will have to do their due diligence to ensure they and their little ones can rest easy.

Studies referenced:

Wang, J., Siddicky, S. F., Carroll, J. L., Rabenhorst, B. M., Bumpass, D. B., Whitaker, B. N., & Mannen, E. M. (2019). Biomechanical Analysis of Inclined Sleep Products.

Liaw, P., Moon, R. Y., Han, A., & Colvin, J. D. (2019). Infant deaths in sitting devices. Pediatrics, 144(1).


Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger

Jessica Winberry, prevention coordinator with THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital

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