Sometimes parenting can feel like a never-ending attempt to keep your kids from injuring themselves, despite their seemingly innate ability to find trouble in even the safest spaces. Just when you think you have it under control, your baby starts rolling, crawling, pulling themselves up, and getting into everything. Before you know it danger is all around you, once again. My babies were always sticking their arms and legs through the crib bars, which made me relentlessly worry about them at night, afraid that at any moment I would hear my little one cry out in pain. So what can a parent do to prevent this from happening? Unfortunately, the answer is "nothing," which, if you ask me, is nothing short of frustrating. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, my friends.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and their safe sleep guidelines, the safest place for an infant to sleep is on their backs and on a separate sleep surface designed for infants, like a crib, bassinet, or play yard. This separate sleep space, per AAP recommendations, should be in the parents' room for at least the first year of the child's life (also known as co-sleeping, but not to be confused with bed-sharing). The AAP guidelines also recommend that the only bedding any parent uses in their baby's crib should be a fitted sheet. That means if parents want to reduce the risk of suffocation and/or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they should not use products like crib bumpers, including mesh or cloth liners.
If you are confused about this particular recommendation, you aren't alone. It seems like every baby aisle in every store contains products, like crib bumpers and other devices that attach to the sides or slats of a crib, to keep babies safe and cozy. However, and despite these manufacturers' claims, the AAP warns parents not to use them, citing research that crib bumpers don't actually work to reduce injury, and can very well increase your babies' risk of strangulation and suffocation.
An additional study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, showed that crib bumpers caused an increased number of deaths and injuries in recent years when infants suffocated, became trapped, or accidentally choked on bumper ties. In response to the study, the AAP has called for a federal ban on crib bumpers in an attempt to not only save infant lives, but to make things less confusing for new, sleep-deprives parents who might understandably think that if a product is sold in stores, it is automatically safe.
But should you be worried that your baby will get hurt if they stick their arms or legs between the crib slats, especially if you're not providing a safe sleep environment if you try to cover those slats up with an in-store product? The AAP says no. It turns out that the risk of injury is actually pretty small.
In fact, out of the 10,000 children that are reportedly taken to an emergency room each year, 80 percent were for crib-related injuries, but only 6 percent of those injuries resulted from a child becoming caught or wedged in the crib, according to a report from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. When injuries do occur they are typically minor and happen to children who are too old to be using bumpers, anyway. Additionally, newer crib standards require that bars be placed closer together, which lowers the risk of serious injury.
So what's a worried parent to do? The answer is not a darn thing, except take apart your baby's crib if they get stuck and kiss their bumps and bruises when they inevitably happen, because kids.