Parenting

What Parents Need To Know About The Rock 'N Play Controversy

Health experts say the risk to babies isn't just from misuse of Fisher-Price's inclined sleeper.

Consumer Reports published an investigation Monday linking the Fisher-Price Rock ’N Play to nearly three dozen infant deaths. And just before the report was published, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and Fisher-Price issued a joint warning for the inclined “sleeper,” calling for consumers to stop using it before their babies turn 3 months old or as soon as they seem to be on the verge of rolling over.

On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics jumped in, calling for the immediate recall of the Rock ’N Play and telling parents to stop using it “immediately.”

There’s disagreement over the number of deaths: Fisher-Price and CPSC said there had been 10 reports of deaths since 2015. Consumer Reports said there had been at least 32.

But the Rock ’n Play is one of those beloved parenting products that’s on countless baby registries and the subject of many threads from parents not only raving about its magic powers but also wondering if it is safe. It is relatively inexpensive. It’s portable. And lots of babies seem to love it. (Full disclosure: I got one for my elder son at the recommendation of a mom friend, and he loved napping in it when he was small and struggling with reflux. I held on to it for my younger baby, too.)

But I spoke to three experts who said they weren’t at all surprised by the Consumer Reports article or the AAP’s strong response because the product does not meet the AAP recommendations for safe sleep. But there is often a tension between the pediatrician group’s recommendations for best practices and what tired parents actually do

So what does that all mean for the fate of the Rock ’N Play, and what do parents need to know?

Were you surprised by the Consumer Reports article or the AAP statement?

Brittany Kaiser, certified public health educator at Safety Stop at St. Louis Children’s Hospital: We have been recommending against kids sleeping in rockers, sleepers, things like that for years. This is nothing new.

Jamie Kondis, emergency medicine pediatrician at Washington University at St. Louis Children’s Hospital: As pediatricians, we have always recommended against these — so now the AAP has come out with a more forceful recommendation.

A lot of parents are saying on social media that they believe the deaths were because the babies had underlying medical issues or because they weren’t using the product correctly (which is essentially what Fisher-Price told Consumer Reports). Is it a safe product if parents use it correctly?

Kaiser: I have been reading a lot of coverage that says, basically, if they are over 3 months old, they can roll over in them and that’s when the danger starts, because they can’t roll back over. But it’s also a danger for babies under 3 months as well, because they’re still in an inclined position where they’re maybe slumping down, and their chin is going into their chest and they’re not able to breathe. So really for all ages, I think it’s an unsafe sleeping position.

Kondis: There is a risk of suffocation from being on an inclined surface where their airway is not flat, it can get easily obstructed, which is the same kind of thing we worry about with a car seat. In our NICU, we do tests with premature babies where we put them in a car seat and let them fall asleep to make sure they’re not going to obstruct their airways even for a short period of time.

A lot of parents say things like, “Of course you don’t put your baby in it overnight, but for naps it’s fine.” (Though probably worth noting, as Consumer Reports does, that its marketing says “inclined sleeper designed for all-night sleep” right there on the box). Are there any circumstances in which you think it’s OK to use the Rock ’N Play?

Kristin Roberts, clinical research coordinator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital: I think now that we know there’s a risk of injury and even death, it’s just not worth that risk.

Kaiser: A lot of these things, whether it’s swings or rockers, are meant for waking hours. And I think those are perfectly fine to use as long as parents are using them properly and they’re following all the rules — though I would no longer say that for Rock ’N Plays, because I would follow the AAP. But I generally think whenever you start using these kinds of swings or rockers for sleep, that’s when you run into problems.

Of course, babies are going to fall asleep in swings, or car seats or strollers — but when that happens, that’s when you need to transfer them to a safe sleep environment, like their crib.

Kondis: And some people are using these in place of a crib, or in place of a Pack ’N Play. I’ve encountered families where the only sleep surface they own is a Rock ’N Play sleeper. I think some families get confused, as they see them as similar to a bassinet.

Any thoughts on other good options for exhausted parents? Particularly parents of babies with reflux, many of whom swear by this?

Kondis: One of the things we commonly recommend to parents whose babies have reflux is sleeping at an angle, but they can do that by elevating the head of the crib. So the entire crib is at an angle, but there’s still nothing in there, like a positioner, or pillows or anything like that. There are other precautions, like holding the baby upright for 30 minutes after they eat and things like that.

We hear that from parents a lot, things like, “He’ll only sleep in the Rock ’N Play” or “He’ll only sleep in the car seat.” But it’s still not an approved, safe-sleep surface.

Roberts: Babies are pretty adaptable and we, as tired parents, can sometimes be reluctant to change, because you don’t want to stop something that worked before or is working now. I’m a parent, I get it, but I think it’s just not worth the risk.

So if you have a Rock ’N Play you’re not using anymore, you shouldn’t pass it along to a friend?

Roberts: I wouldn’t, and I’d encourage parents, if they’re getting rid of theirs, to think about disassembling it or putting it in a plastic bag, so another parent doesn’t think, “Oh, here’s a beautiful sleeper I can use.”

Kondis: It hasn’t actually been recalled. Once a product is recalled, we tell families not to give them away or sell them or anything like that. For now, I’d tell parents we’re still obviously not recommending them for sleep, and they can use their best judgment about giving them away.