Bean bags – soft, squishy but unsafe

Updated: Apr 24

Bean bags may have been around since the days of flower power and all things hippy but in more recent times, they are making a comeback with many now designed for bubs.

The emergence and rising popularity of bean bags and other polystyrene bead filled products being sold for infants and young children has prompted both researchers and safety organisations to issue constant warnings about the potential risks associated with these products.

Although these products may not be principally designed and marketed as a sleeping product, it is common for advertising images to feature sleeping infants who may also be in an unsafe sleep position with their chin moving forward towards their chest. It is also common for parents to allow their infant to stay in these products if they do fall asleep, rather than wake them and move them to the safer cot/bassinet.

Baby bean bags or adult bean bags should never be used for a baby, infant or young child to sleep in.

Bean bag type products should only be used when an infant is awake, and then under strict supervision, by a responsible adult but bean bags can pose a potential and lethal suffocation risk at any time, asleep or awake!

Since the 1990s there have been many reported deaths of infants, who were found face down on or with faces turned into polystyrene-filled beanbags or similar products, due to entrapment or suffocation.[1] [2] [3] [4]

The potential hazards listed below outweigh any purported benefits and claims by some product manufacturers. The ongoing claims by manufacturers that these products prevent “flat heads” (positional plagiocephaly) and relieve the symptoms of reflux, wind or colic are incorrect, misleading and definitely not best practice.

Potential hazards include:

  • Entrapment

Ø The soft and unstable composition of the bead filling within the bag cannot support the weight of an infant or young child. With only very little movement, an infant or young child can sink into the contours of the bag, becoming entrapped and unable to move freely away and out of danger.

Ø Bean bags are unstable and can move easily, especially when an infant begins to become more active. If the infant is strapped in and the device topples over, there is also potential for entrapment and mechanical suffocation. This can occur with a young child, too.

  • Suffocation

Ø Safe sleeping advice recommends an infant should always sleep on their BACK on a firm and flat surface to ensure an open and unobstructed airway is maintained. Infants are physiologically and anatomically very different, and more vulnerable, than adults. Their heads are much larger in proportion to their body, and they have short necks and small lower faces around the chin region. If an infant’s head is pushed forward, creating the chin to chest position (especially when they sink into the bean bag into a tilted or semi reclining position),. their airway can become blocked by the tongue thereby causing slow or rapid suffocation.

TIP: Tilt your own head forward and place your chin on your chest and try to breathe through your nose. Not easy! Even harder for a young infant.

Ø The bean bag’s softness and polystyrene bead filling allows the surface to contour around an infant or young child’s face. This increases the risk of overheating, the covering of their airways, mechanical suffocation if they turn their head, and carbon dioxide rebreathing.

  • Choking

Ø Light weight polystyrene beads used as filling in the bean bags present a serious danger to children if swallowed or inhaled.

The Consumer Goods (Bean Bags) Safety Standard 2014 sets out the mandatory requirements for bean bags; however, the mandatory standard applies to bean bags and bean bag covers that have openings through which the filling can be accessed or can escape, and prescribes a labelling requirement for packages containing bean bag filling. Hence, part of the standard mandates warnings on any type of bean bag products, including bean bags marketed for infants stating:

“Children can suffocate if bean bag filling is swallowed or inhaled. Do not let children climb inside this bean bag. A bean bag is not a safe sleeping surface for an infant under 12 months of age”.5

Infants should be placed on their BACK into a safe cot to sleep, on a firm, well fitting and flat mattress. No soft bedding (soft toys, cot bumpers, pillows, sheepskins or padded accessories) or loose bedding such as quilts, doonas, or comforters. Sleep positioners, cot restraints or wedge type products should not be used.


It’s really difficult to know what to believe when there are so many conflicting claims for so many different infant products out there so click here to learn more about the difference between manufacturers' claims and what the scientific evidence shows!

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References

[1] Fleming PJ, Blair PS, Bacon C, Berry PJ (Eds.) (2000) Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy: The CESDI SUDI studies 1993-1996. London: The Stationery Office [2] Carleton JN, Donoghue AM, Porter WK Mechanical model testing of rebreathing potential in infant bedding materials. Arch Dis Child. 1998 Apr;78(4):323-8. [3] Gilbert·Barness E & Emery JL (1996). Deaths of infants on polystyrene-filled beanbags. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 17, 202-6 [4] Kemp JS, Thach BT. Sudden death in infants sleeping on polystyrene-filled cushions. N Engl jMed 1991; 324: 1858-64. 5 https://www.productsafety.gov.au/standards/bean-bags © Soteria Safe Sleeping Advice 2020