After an NBC News inquiry reported a minimum of 162 infant deaths linked to nursing pillows since 2007, federal staff members have suggested the first-ever national guidelines to enhance the safety of these widely used infant products.
On Wednesday, the team from the Consumer Product Safety Commission advocated for stricter regulations aimed at making nursing pillows less risky, particularly when used as sleeping surfaces for babies. The regulations, if approved, would focus on maintaining the firmness of the pillows to minimize the chances of infant suffocation. Additionally, the team suggested that the design should allow ample space to prevent the restriction of a baby’s head movement, thereby ensuring uninterrupted airflow.
The draft report by the staff elaborated that since babies often doze off during or post-feeding, the misuse of nursing pillows as sleeping spots is foreseeable, posing a considerable safety hazard.
The team also wants to enforce the need for more conspicuous and durable warning labels on these products. While most nursing pillows come with tags advising against using them for sleeping or leaving babies unattended, these warnings need to be more apparent and permanently fixed, according to the draft suggestions.
Moreover, the staff proposed that these pillows should be designed without straps to secure babies. This is to avoid giving caregivers a false sense of security that may lead them to leave infants unattended.
These safety recommendations were initiated shortly after NBC News disclosed that a majority of the reported infant deaths occurred when babies were laid to sleep either on or alongside these nursing pillows.
According to CPSC data, between 2010 and 2022, there were 154 infant deaths associated with nursing pillows. These included cases of suffocation, asphyxia, and sudden infant death syndrome. In 2020 alone, 38 such deaths were reported.
The decision to implement these suggestions rests with the CPSC’s four commissioners, who are scheduled to vote on the matter in the coming month. If the proposal gains approval, the public will have an opportunity to give their input before the new regulations are finalized.
CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. commented that when infant deaths can be traced back to specific products, it becomes the agency’s responsibility to mitigate such risks.
The initial recommendations have been well-received by grieving parents like Taylor Wells from Mississippi. Her four-month-old daughter, Autumn, passed away in March 2022 after sleeping on a nursing pillow at a daycare. Wells expressed her strong desire for the proposed regulations to be enacted.
According to industry figures, around 1.34 million nursing pillows are sold every year in the U.S. These products are not only considered essential for infant feeding but are also marketed as aids to alleviate parental discomfort.
However, the recommended changes could face resistance from manufacturers who argue that the products are safe when used as directed. They have also been pushing for voluntary safety standards and have engaged in lobbying efforts against federal mandates.
If the proposals are adopted, a substantial redesign of most existing nursing pillows would be necessary, at an estimated initial industry-wide cost of $13.5 million. This could result in a modest price increase of less than $5 per product to absorb the expenses.
Previously, the CPSC had warned as early as 2020 that nursing pillows are not designed for sleeping and, therefore, should not be used for that purpose.
Medical professionals and safety experts have long warned against the practice of laying infants to sleep on such pillows, as it can lead to fatal outcomes within minutes. Babies should only sleep alone, on their back, and on a flat surface devoid of any loose bedding, as per the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The NBC News investigation, which used a multitude of sources, including federal data and local officials’ reports, also revealed the various causes of the 162 deaths. Some infants suffocated by burying their faces in the soft surface of the pillows, while others experienced restricted airflow due to improper positioning. In certain cases, mothers inadvertently fell asleep while using the nursing pillows and woke up to find their babies unresponsive.
The reported 162 deaths are likely an underestimate, as post-mortem reports often lack comprehensive product information and are usually not publicly disclosed.
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