Baby sleep positioners are a favorite item for new parents. You probably even have one on your baby registry.
These sleep positioners are popular because as parents we are all petrified of SIDS. This fear means we’ll do anything to stick to Safe sleep advice for baby. These products not only claim to keep your baby safe from SIDS but prevent or ease other common health issues for babies.
Surely a product that claims to prevent your baby dying must be safe?
Read this guide to discover just why these claims can be fatal for your baby.
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Baby Sleep Positioners Safety
What is a Baby Sleep Positioner?
A sleep positioner is designed as an ‘anti-roll’ baby product, to hold or ‘position’ your baby as they sleep. These products are aimed at babies under 6 months who cannot yet roll back and forward unaided.
Two common type of sleep positioners:
Barrier – This is usually a mat with foam areas which act a barrier for baby. This foam is generally in the tummy area or the head.
Pillow – This type is designed to raise your baby’s head. Some have a belt or strap to prevent baby rolling.
At the time of this guide going live a quick search on Amazon found these infant sleep positioners:
You’ll see a lots of these brands make claims their positioner can prevent reflux, flat head syndrome and even SIDS (crib death).
Sleep positioners are not to be confused with crib wedges or baby pods or nests, such as the Dock A Tot. I’ll discuss these later in this guide.
In 2010 the FDA consumer health information released a statement regarding their concerns over baby sleep positioners.
The FDA issued this recommendation due to the accidental deaths of 12 babies in the USA over the last 13 years.
The cause of these deaths was suffocation from restricted sleep positions due to the positioner. The means if a baby manages to get free, the positioner is an immediate hazard.
In 2017 the FDA re-released this statement over the growing popularity of sleep positioners.
Their advice is the never use a baby sleep positioner. They are not necessary, and they pose a suffocation and entrapment hazard for your baby.
The safest sleep area for your baby is a bare crib with a firm flat surface. The crib space should be free of any pillows, toys, bumpers, comforters or quilts. Any loose items pose a risk of suffocation, choking or strangulation for your baby.
Always put your baby on their back to sleep.
Health Issues and Baby Sleep Positioners
It can be tempting to buy a product when it makes claims that it can be the answer to your problems. As a parent, you want the best for your baby and will do all you can to keep them safe and comfortable.
The FDA regulate items which claim to improve, prevent or treat any health conditions. Let’s looks at the three common conditions sleep positioners often claim to prevent.
SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
Sudden infant death syndrome is the unexplained death of a baby as they sleep. Little is known about the condition, but it affects around 4000 babies in the USA every year.
The FDA never approve any sleep positioner that claims to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. These marketing claims are false and dangerous. There is no scientific proof to support that any baby sleep product can do this.
You cannot prevent SIDS, but you can ensure a safe environment to reduce risks associated with SIDS. Check out my guide for official safe sleep advice for your baby.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition that causes stomach acid to back up in your baby’s throat. Positioning a baby at a tilted angle can reduce the severity if baby reflux. Sleep positioners were previously approved for this use. However, their approval has since been withdrawn as the risk of suffocation is greater than reflux benefits to baby.
A tilt can still be achieved to help with reflux and comply with safe sleep conditions.
You can use a crib wedge to tilt the entire mattress. Using this type of tilt means your baby remains on a firm, flat surface without restriction.
Ensure your baby’s crib is stable and you conform to any product instructions for correct use.
Flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly)
Flat head syndrome is a deformity caused to baby’s who are placed on their back too often. The area at the back of their head flattens and may require treatment such as a helmet to fix the problem.
Sleep positioners claim the support your baby’s head upright. This position should prevent it flattening at the back.
Similar to the reflux issue, sleep positioners were previously approved for this. Again, this approval was withdrawn due to suffocation concerns.
It’s debatable that positioners are suitable for times when your baby is awake, to prevent flat head. If you use one for this purpose, always closely observe your baby.
Try to keep your baby’s lying periods to a minimum. Lots of tummy time activities are encouraged to prevent this issue. This position will help build up their back and neck strength.
A baby carrier is a great way to prevent flat head caused by regular baby bouncer and stroller use.
Most major retailers have since withdrawn any sleep positioners from their shops or websites. They are harder to find but still available, mostly online.
These sellers don’t make it clear about the risk their product poses. Many new parents still buy these products, unaware of the dangers.
You may also find them being sold second hand at thrift stores, garage sales or on eBay. Lack of instructions poses a risk as you’ll be unaware of how to use them properly.
Makeshift sleep positioner
It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t use any type of homemade positioner to restrict your baby moving.
Everyday prop items include pillows, cushions, nursing pillows and rolled towels. Anything you add to your baby’s crib is a potential hazard and increases their risk of injury or accident.
Remember, always follow safe sleep advice and keep the crib clear.
A crib wedge is not considered to be a sleep positioner. It is placed under your baby’s crib or bassinet mattress to give a slight angle. The mattress remains flat and firm without any item in the sleep area to pose risk to baby. The hiccapop crib wedge is a popular choice.
Note – A crib wedge should not be confused with a pillow wedge. A crib wedge should be at least 27.25” wide and positioned under the mattress. A pillow wedge is placed directly under your baby’s head; this is a sleep positioner to avoid.
This type of tilt can help elevate discomfort caused to your baby by lying at a flat angle including:
- Congestion (from colds)
- Breathing difficulties
You may want to discuss with your pediatrician if your baby would benefit from this type of product.
Baby pod and nests
Sleep positioners can often be confused with baby sleep pods and nests.
The difference is that baby sleep positioners restrict your baby’s movement. A sleep pod or nest offer a non-restricted sleep area for your baby.
However, it’s important to remember that sleep baby pods and nests may not conform to safe sleep advice. This advice refers to having nothing else in the crib.
The padded side of some pods and nests are soft and pillow-like, not flat as recommended.
These products conform to rigorous safety standards and are FDA approved. As it stands, there is no evidence for or against them.
- If you do use one of these products I recommend
- Never leave your baby to sleep unsupervised
- Don’t place them in a crib
- Don’t put them on a raised surface (such as a sofa)
- Keep them on a firm flat surface
- Don’t prop any part of the pod or nest
If you intend to buy a pod or nest to bed share, then check out my guide on how to co-sleep safely with your baby.
Ultimately it’s up to you whether you choose to use these products or not. Please be diligent with any baby sleep product. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, but do use them wisely.
It’s easy to think that these type of accidents won’t happen to you. If it means I help prevent one family from suffering a SIDS tragedy, then it’s more than worth it.
If your baby has suffered an accident or injury due to a sleep positioner, you should report it to the FCA MedWatch Program.
If you are unsure of a product’s safety or are concerned about your baby’s health, please contact your healthcare provider for further advice.