In this month's Parenting magazine, I wrote a short item warning about the dangers of crib bumpers.
In the past, parents were warned to use only bumpers that were firm and "not pillowlike." However, a research team from Washington University determined that there is no safe crib bumper. Dr. Bradley Thach, the study's author, advised that parents use cribs without bumpers.
If the baby's arms and legs slipping through crib rails is a problem, Thach suggested trying a mesh bumper such as this one. (Thach hadn't seen this particular bumper, but he thought mesh would be a good idea.)
The team came to its conclusion by analyzing data on infant deaths and injuries from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. It found 22 accidental deaths attributable to bumpers between 1985 to 2005. It found some non-serious injuries, such as contusions -- but zero deaths -- attributable to the lack of bumpers, i.e. from a baby banging his head against the crib rails.
Thach's team also examined 22 crib bumpers they found in stores and found that they all had hazardous properties, including ties that were long enough to strangle babies.
The bumper deaths were caused in three ways: 1) Some infants were found suffocated with their faces pressed against the bumper. 2) Some were found with their heads stuck between the bumper and another object such as the crib mattress. 3) Some were strangled by bumper ties.
Over the course of 20 years, 22 accidental deaths represents a pretty minor risk. Thach told me that the CPSC database is far from comprehensive when it comes to tracking all accidents nationwide. But even if the count was off by a factor of 10 -- when you consider that 9.7 million children under age 5 died worldwide in 2006 alone (up to half of them from malnutrition-related ailments), crib bumpers aren't exactly death machines.
The bottom line of this study appears to be that even though the danger of most crib bumpers may not be large, they don't provide much benefit to families in terms of safety. Which leaves as the only reason to use bumpers the cute and cozy factor.
Is cute and cozy worth the risk of death? Not at my house.