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Baby Bouncers – Help or Hazard?

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

For the past couple of generations, bouncinettes have been part and parcel of baby’s nursery. However, as in many situations, unsupervised use of some typical nursery equipment is hazardous and, unfortunately, the handy bouncinette is one of them.

Tragically, seventy-three deaths in the US[1] have been attributed to bouncers/bouncinettes, similar portable, tilted, reclining or sitting type products in less than four years. These are all dangerous when used unsupervised or as a place to sleep babies. It is not safe to leave a baby asleep propped up in any of these devices and improper use of bouncinettes, swings, bean bags and car seats can lead to fatal sleeping accidents.

In Australia, warnings about the potential risks these products pose have been issued in recent times. Calls for these types of products to be recalled and taken from the market are growing.

Australian Recall June 2019

Following the recall of the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper in the US in April 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has recalled Kids eleven – 11 – various Rocking Sleepers. It has stated that this “product is potentially dangerous when instructions and warnings are not followed. Infants may roll from their back to their stomach or side if unrestrained. Hazard: There is a risk of suffocation if the infant rolls from its back to stomach or side while unrestrained or if bedding or blankets are used with the product”.

Fisher Price and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) initially issued a joint alert warning in April 2019, (USA) to parents and caregivers to discontinue use of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. “If your child is 3 months or older, or if your child can roll, stop using your Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play. 10 deaths since 2015 occurred when infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side, while unrestrained.

Image: Rock'n Play Sleeper

Further investigations led to all models of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper being recalled due to reports of at least 32 infant deaths linked to this product since 2015.

Popular with parents since it came onto the market in 2009, this reclining baby sleeper that rocks, vibrates, and plays music was adopted by parents looking for a way to get their baby to sleep and, as sleep-deprived parents, perhaps some needed sleep for themselves!

Regrettably, parents have also been influenced by:

So-called ‘sleep experts’ promoting this product and similar ones as a sleep product or to assist relief from reflux

  • Testimonials and the growth of social media with thousands of parents giving glowing reviews or social media influencers promoting these products

Worryingly, after the US recall there were mixed comments on social media withsome parents still advocating the use of this product, because of how the product ‘worked’ for their baby. (Quick point: because it ‘works’, does not make it safe!)

  • Role modelling – the Rock ‘n Play starred on TLC’s new and popular reality show OutDaughtered. A recent episode featured their five baby girls sleeping in a row of—you guessed it—Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleepers!

  • Inaccurate marketing/advertising by manufacturers and retailers, e.g. the Rock ‘n Play was advertised as a place to sleep baby, “great for overnight sleep” (on its box) and “the inclined seat helps baby sleep all night long” (on website). There are no warnings of the risks with using this products.

Inaccurate advertising on baby sleeper box

Aren’t all nursery products for sale safe?

Most people assume that all nursery products sold in retail stores here in Australia must be safe. Unfortunately, there are so many products on the market around which no formal research has been done to show the efficacy or the safety of most of these products. Seeing all these products available to buy and hearing comments that they may work can influence and also confuse parents – what is safe and what is not.

Parents and carers need to think:

1. Is the product I am using a safe product?

2. What are the potential benefits of using this product and what are the potential hazards? Weigh these up and then decide if you still want to use it

3. Am I using it in a safe way? Many parents had left their baby unattended and neglected to use the three-point harness restraint.

4. What is my baby/infant doing in this product-and does this create any potential hazards?

So what are the potential hazards?

Unsupervised, baby can move and slip down into the straps, becoming trapped which can increase the risk of a sleeping accident from strangulation.

Unsupervised, baby could roll over become entrapped and suffocate. (Last year, a 6-month-old baby died in a Rock ’n Play after rolling over in it and suffocating.)

Unsupervised, an entrapment, fall or suffocation accident could occur if a pet or another child climbs onto the product/baby or overturns the product.

A young baby has low neck strength. When awake, they may be able to hold their head up for a short time but when a baby falls asleep in a propped up device, the head can fall (flop) forwards, pushing the chin down towards the chest. This can lead to the airway becoming blocked and reducing airflow which may cause young babies to experience respiratory (breathing) problems. The tilted position of the Rock n’ Play and other bouncinette type products can increase baby’s risk of positional asphyxiation.

Unsupervised feeding by propping up baby with a bottle can result in choking. There is also evidence to show that prop-fed infants have more ear infections and dental caries. Although there is no evidence at this stage that prop feeding increases the risk of SIDS, it can result in choking and should be avoided.

TRY THIS SIMPLE TEST Tilt your own head forward and place your chin on your chest. Try to breathe through your nose. Can you breathe freely? No? Neither can bub.

What if my baby has reflux?

Babies breathe better when they are lying on their back on a firm, well fitting, flat (not tilted or elevated) mattress. The safest position for a baby with reflux is on their back on a firm, flat surface (not elevated or tilted). *Always seek medical advice if you believe your baby has reflux.

Bouncers/bouncinettes, swings, car capsules, seats and bean bags are dangerous when used as a place to sleep babies. If baby falls asleep whilst tilted in these type of products, they should be removed immediately and placed to sleep on their back on a firm, well fitting, clean and flat surface, which is not elevated or tilted.

Placing babies with reflux in these devices is not recommended. They should be placed to sleep on their back on a firm, flat mattress that is not elevated or tilted. Elevating or tilting the cot or mattress or propping baby up on a pillow does not reduce reflux. Car seats and capsules have been designed as restraints to keep baby safe whilst travelling in a car – they should not be used as a sleeping environment in the home or in a childcare setting. Other sitting baby equipment such as bouncers/bouncinettes and swings should only be used when the baby is awake, strong enough to support their own head and when an adult care giver is supervising them.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Paediatrics reviewed 47 deaths of children under two years of age occurring in sitting and carrying devices that were reported to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2004 and 2008. It noted all but one of the cases was attributed to asphyxia (positional or strangulation). Two thirds of the cases involved car seats and the remainder occurred in bouncers, slings, swings and strollers.

Alarmingly, the elapsed time – from when the infants were seen alive to when they were discovered in a compromised situation – ranged from as little as four minutes to up to eleven hours.

Key tips if you are using a bouncer/bouncinette:

  • Never leave a baby unattended in a bouncinette

  • Restraints should be used according to manufacturer’s instructions

  • A waist strap and crotch strap to secure baby.

  • If baby falls asleep whilst in a bouncer/bouncinette remove them and place them into a safe cot. The safest place to sleep baby whilst in your service is in a cot or portable cot that meets the current Australian mandatory standard.

  • Never place the bouncinette on a table or other raised surface that could cause your baby to fall.

  • Put the bouncinette on a flat floor surface and away from potential hazards, such as stairs and furniture.

  • Never leave your baby propped up with a bottle unsupervised.

  • Never carry your baby around in the bouncinette in case you trip or fall.

  • Stop using the bouncinette when your baby starts to roll

Never let your baby fall asleep in a bouncinette. It is not a safe sleeping environment for a baby!

Other products which have been recalled for similar reasons…

In 2013, a product called the Nap Nanny was recalled following five infant deaths, as well as 92 incidents of babies falling out of the sleeper.

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!

Join one of our webinars for more on Sleeping your baby Safely

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[1] Updated 1Nov19 - Deaths reported in US rose from 32 in April 2019 to 73 by November 2019.

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