The baby product industry is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. With countless goods on the retail and secondhand markets, it’s impossible for new or experienced parents to sift through every option. We often rely on reviews, recommendations, and the wisdom of others.
Factor into that wisdom the experience of your pediatrician. Beyond years of education, training, and daily practice, your child’s doctor maintains awareness of ever-evolving product safety. Unfortunately, many have also treated negative effects of unsafe items firsthand.
“Just because a product is manufactured for children doesn’t guarantee its safety,” says Dr. M.K. Allgeier at All Star Pediatrics. “Tragically, items aren’t usually recalled or changed until something terrible happens, and even then, the process can be slow.”
Listed below are several products with a history of risk to babies, plus guidance on alternatives:
INCLINED LOUNGERS: Arguably one of the most popular baby registry items as they promise to give exhausted parents a break, inclined loungers include many products marketed as “rockers,” or “sleepers.” Used correctly, they’re meant to entertain or relax infants under constant supervision. Far too often, however, babies drift to sleep in them and stay there.
Loungers with an incline over 10 degrees are hazardous to sleeping babies for a couple reasons. Baby heads are heavy, and the incline can bring their chin to rest against their chest while they sleep. This position restricts the airway, which can be further suppressed by a seat buckle. They also usually include plenty of cushioning, a suffocation hazard if baby turns their face to the side. For these same reasons, breastfeeding pillows like the famed Boppy should never be used to hold sleeping babies.
If you plan to use a lounger or swing, make sure baby is always supervised in it and transfer them to a flat sleeping surface if they doze off. Safe places for sleep include cribs, portable playards (Pack n’ Play) or bassinets for babies who cannot roll over yet, all of which should be bare inside. If your baby attends daycare or spends extended time with relatives, ensure they also follow these rules.
CRIB ACCESSORIES: By now, most parents have heard the dangers of crib bumpers. They’re a known suffocation hazard responsible for dozens of preventable infant deaths. Cushioning is an obvious danger, but even mesh bumpers can be a strangulation hazard if a baby wedges their head/neck between the bumper and the mattress. Older babies may also be tempted to climb or pull up on a bumper. Sleep spaces should be kept bare, especially for babies under 1 year old. No bumpers, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, toys, or bottles should be present, and a fitted sheet should fit the mattress precisely so there is no excess fabric.
New federal safety standards passed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2022 ban the sale of unsafe crib bumpers and inclined sleepers, holding them to the same rigorous safety standards as other sleep furniture. Even so, suppliers have until later this year to fully comply, and the secondhand market is difficult to regulate. Again, make sure other caregivers follow safe sleep rules.
AMBER TEETHING NECKLACES: Unlike the products above, amber teething necklaces are relatively new to the industry. Claiming to relieve teething pain by transferring succinic acid to the bloodstream as it’s absorbed through the skin, these necklaces are generally a small strand of golden-brown beads with various types of closures. Over the last several years, they’ve become widely available from boutiques, big box stores, and online retailers alike.
First and foremost, any necklace on a baby is a strangulation hazard. They can constrict a child’s airway while they’re sleeping or get caught on something while they play. A broken strand is a choking hazard the same as any beads. Further, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that they’re effective against teething pain. Succinic acid is not released from (real) amber until it reaches a dangerously high temperature, and these necklaces are not regulated for authenticity of the amber anyway.
Teething pain is best relieved by durable, safe, single-piece teethers and rest. Your pediatrician can also clarify the appropriate dose of acetaminophen for teething-related fever and discomfort.
USED CAR SEATS: Car seats, like vehicles themselves, are intensely scrutinized and tested for safety. Even so, parents should abide by a few cautions: Car seats should not be used if they are more than 6 years old or have surpassed the manufacturer’s expiration date. Purchasing or accepting a used car seat is not recommended as you don’t know its history. If it was involved in a wreck or improperly stored, it should not be used again.
Car seats are made with plastic, which weakens over time in extreme/uncontrolled temperatures like hot attics. If your child has outgrown their seat and you want to use it for a sibling before the expiration date, store it in a temperature-regulated space. Many stores offer trade-in programs where you can turn in an old car seat for a coupon to purchase a new one. Share the coupon with someone else if you don’t need it!
UNSECURED FURNITURE: We cannot stress enough that any furniture taller than it is wide—namely, shelves and dressers—should be secured to the wall before your child is crawling. Do not procrastinate on this baby-proofing step. Only one incident can be catastrophic. If your furniture did not come with a securing mechanism, you can purchase kits to get the job done from hardware stores or online.
Note that if you move homes or purchase new furniture after your child has outgrown toddlerhood, it’s still not a bad idea to secure it. Climbing is not the only hazard. Dressers can tip if multiple drawers are pulled out at once, and narrow shelves are risky on even slightly-uneven floors. You also won’t have to worry about guests with a baby or young child. What harm is a little added safety?
“If you’ve used one of the above products during your parenting journey, we are absolutely not shaming you as a caregiver,” Dr. Allgeier emphasizes. “Our only ‘dog in the fight’ is your child’s wellness. We understand how marketing works, how hard parents try to find budget-friendly, efficient products, and how challenging it is to keep up with recalls. If you’re not sure about a baby item you’re using, ask us!”
For more information on products to avoid and safe sleep guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, visit https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Inclined-Sleepers-and-Other-Baby-Registry-Items-to-Avoid.aspx
To view lists of baby product recalls by year and sign up for email notifications of new recalls, visit https://www.safekids.org/product-recalls