Bear with me on this one. I promise it includes a valuable story. In fact, it’ll probably be one of the most important posts I’ve ever written.
The main take home message here? Read the fine print! It is really, really easy to be misled into believing a potentially dangerous product is safe for your baby.
As most of you know, I am very passionate about promoting safe sleep practices. Because of this, I feel an obligation towards parents and infants to share an experience I recently had with the manufacturer of a baby sleep device. My intention is not to slander another company (in fact, I have chosen not to disclose the name), but rather to show just how easy it is for companies to market their product as being “safe,” “tested,” and “approved,” when in fact it may be life-threatening for babies if used the way it is promoted.
Back in July, I posted a safe sleep tip that was inspired by a viral photo on Kim Kardashian's Instagram account. It showed her newborn baby sleeping in a DocATot (an unsafe sleep device, though not the one I’m focusing on in this article) inside a crib, with a bumper, loose bedding, stuffed animals, and more. When I first saw it, my heart skipped a few beats.
Immediately, I thought, "I need to use this in a post so people can see that fame doesn’t mean someone is an expert or a good role model."
I was proud of this post. It showed my creative and humorous side, and I believed it would be eye-catching as so many of us are sucked into the picture-perfect lives of the rich and famous.
I was right. It received the most engagement of any post I’ve ever shared.
Shortly after uploading it, I received a notification that another business had commented on it and shared it on their own Facebook page. They included praise for my safe sleep post, then followed with a link to their website and a suggestion for my audience to use their “safe” product in place of the DocATot.
I clicked on the link and found that their product is similar to a baby hammock. It gets attached to the crib bars and hangs in the center with baby laying in the middle. Basically replacing one item unsafe for infant sleep with another.
A video pinned to the top of their page reassures parents that the product will help their child sleep through the night safely. They really emphasized the “safe sleep” factor.
Now, I’ll admit—when I first saw that another company had shared my post, I got a little excited. But after seeing their product, my feelings quickly turned to disappointment. There was no way I’d be able to provide support for their product.
I chose to become a Child Sleep Coach certified by the Family Sleep Institute. I literally signed a piece of paper with the FSI that obligates me to follow (and encourage my clients to follow) the AAP's safe sleep recommendations. It seemed this company was using my post to promote exactly the opposite of what I stand for and the point I had intended for my clever post.
Right away, I responded with a comment about safe sleep standards as outlined by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Both organizations state that the safest space for an infant to sleep is on his/her back, on a firm surface, in a bare crib (or another infant bed that has passed safe sleep standards). There is to be nothing in the crib but a fitted sheet. This means no attachments that weren’t tested and sold specifically for that infant bed.
Translation? No hammocks.
I politely asked the company in question to remove my post from their page, citing that I do not promote what they sell and don’t want consumers to think I do. I followed up by stating that consumers should check the fine print on the product. (More on that in a bit.)
Regardless of the AAP’s and CPSC’s recommendations for safe sleep, this company not only continues to promote its product as safe—it uses this claim as its main marketing message. On their website, one can find a page specifically titled "Safety" where they state, "Our sleep system has been rigorously safety tested and meets or exceeds all safety standards. Below is a list showing all our components and certifications levels."
Knowing what I know about safe sleep standards, I was confused as to how they were able to (1) promote their product as safe for sleep, (2) state that they follow AAP safe sleep guidelines, and (3) post a sticker on their website stating "CPSC Approved".
Not only that—with the way they market their device, you would think it’s a better option than the suggested bare crib. In fact, on the home page they state that their product “is the healthy sleep alternative for your baby; creating the safest environment outside of your arms.”
So, I did what I usually end up doing. I researched. I started digging on their website for answers. I reread the AAP and CPSC guidelines for safe sleep (yeah, you read that correctly—they had me questioning my own knowledge about safe sleep!). I reached out to CPSC to ask what parameters are placed on a product to receive a sticker saying "CPSC Approved". And here is what I learned.
FIRST, HERE’S WHAT I FOUND ON THE COMPANY'S WEBSITE
After scrolling down on the "Safety" page mentioned above, I saw that the safety standards listed have everything to do with the material of the product, and nothing to do with infant sleep—safe or otherwise. I learned that the product is lead-free (I mean, I would sure hope so!), doesn’t contain any harmful substances, and is not flammable. So far, so good—seemingly.
See, until I scrolled down to see more, I was easily fooled into believing that their “safety standards” were actually related to safe sleep; not the fabric itself. And I’m not even the exhausted mom of a newborn! The information seems to be positioned strategically for the target market—sleep-deprived parents looking for a quick fix with reassurance that their baby will be safe.
On the same page, there’s a photo of an infant laying face down in the product with the caption: “100% Breathable Sleep Environment for Baby, Even for Tummy Sleepers.” But on the product information page, it states "AAP Sleep Guidelines suggest laying infants flat on their back. We've designed [Product Name] to give parents that option: Simply adjust the height of [Product Name] so that the infant’s back is resting on the crib mattress, be sure to keep straps even and [Product Name] flat. Re-tighten if necessary."
The scary part: that one specific page is the only place you’ll see this warning. Throughout their website and in their videos, parents (and experts!) are led to believe it is safe to leave their baby in the hammock in the higher position.
At this point, I’m already fuming. I know how exhausted my clients (and all parents) are, and what sort of state they’re in when they’re desperately searching for the magical cure to their baby’s sleep issues. There’s a really good chance they’re never going to see this section of the website.
Then, the moment I’d been waiting for: on the safety label, it states, "Direct supervision is required while baby is in [Product Name]." Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking for a way to help my baby sleep through the night, I plan to do some sleeping myself. So not only is this a ridiculous precaution to have in the first place—it was also buried deep in the fine print for practically nobody to read.
NEXT, REASSURANCE WITH THE AAP
Because the product website had almost done a great job of convincing me that this product was—perhaps—the exception, I had to double-check everything I thought I knew about the AAP’s recommendations.
I was easily reassured and instantly felt silly for second-guessing myself. You can find the AAP recommendations that the company contradicts here. Specifically, "back to sleep for every sleep" (1), "use a firm sleep surface" (2), "avoid the use of commercial devices that are inconsistent with safe sleep recommendation" (12), and "media and manufacturers should follow safe sleep guidelines in their messaging and advertising (17).
WHAT I DISCOVERED WITH THE CPSC
Even after doing my digging on the company website and reassuring myself with the AAP safe sleep standards, I was still confused as to how they could display a “CPSC Approved” badge. So, I reached out to the staff at CPSC and discovered that "The CPSC does not provide companies with an approval badge. But, a company can state their product is CPSC compliant if the product complies with all of the testing that is required by our agency.” Then, they provided me with the following links to regulations on children’s products:
Standards, Regulations and Mandatory Standards
To be honest, it is difficult to find any specifics with regards to the CPSC approving infant sleep products, even after searching through the links provided. But, it’s worth noting that I was unable to find the product in question when searching the CPSC website.
It is also worth noting an article that came out on October 21, 2019 from Consumer Reports as I was writing this article—More Infant Sleep Products Linked to Deaths, a Consumer Reports Investigation Finds. It states "Last week, the CPSC released a report acknowledging at least 73 infant deaths associated with inclined sleep products—up from the 54 CR reported earlier this month. The updated count includes fatalities linked with inclined products such as hammocks, six of which were recalled, and nonrocking inclined products, such as the Nap Nanny, an inclined foam sleeper that was fully recalled in 2013 and has been tied to six fatalities."
After an appalling amount of back-and-forth messages with the company (me requesting that they delete my post; them insisting that their product is safe, that I'm doing a disservice to my clients by not promoting it, and honestly, being downright insulting towards me), I ultimately decided to delete the post. It means it's not on my page anymore... but at least it's not on theirs either.
Honestly? I found it incredibly frustrating that a company that is knowingly targeting its product at the most sleep-deprived population would be taking advantage of its customers like this. And, I guess I just need you to know that I see you. I know how exhausted you are and how many companies are throwing their magical miracle products in your face. And if you’ve ever fallen victim to thinking that one of them was safer than it actually was, know that you are not alone. It is so easy to be persuaded by a company with amazing marketing skills.
Make sure to read the fine print. Don’t automatically trust everything you see, regardless of how persuasive it can be. Ask experts, do some digging, and find the truth.
But most importantly? Keep it simple with a bare crib.