12 more babies have died in dangerous inclined sleepers since 2019 recalls

A new recall announcement follows complaints that manufacturers didn’t do enough to get the word out. The death count is now over 100, 12 of those after the original 2019 recalls of “deadly product for babies.”

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Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, with a now-illegal Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper at the nonprofit’s River North headquarters. Cowles helped get the inclined sleepers for infants banned nationwide.

Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, with a now-illegal Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper at the nonprofit’s River North headquarters. Cowles helped get the inclined sleepers for infants banned nationwide.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Nancy Cowles is glad that a national recall has just been reannounced for inclined sleepers for infants that had been pulled off the market in 2019 as a safety hazard for babies and banned by Congress two years later.

But Cowles, executive director of the Chicago-based nonprofit Kids in Danger, is sorry that it took the deaths of 12 more babies in the dangerous sleepers to get manufacturers to make the new announcement, which came through the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

And that announcement isn’t enough, she says.

“The manufacturers seem to think that getting to the table with the CPSC and announcing the recall is the end of their work,” says Cowles, whose organization was started by two University of Chicago professors whose 16-month-old son Danny Keysar was killed in 1998 in a recalled portable crib at his daycare center.

The reannounced CPSC recall covers these inclined sleepers that were first recalled in April 2019:

  • About 4.7 million Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleepers that were sold at major retailers like Walmart and Target and on Amazon from 2009 to 2019. Fisher-Price is owned by Mattel Inc. The CPSC has tallied “approximately 100 deaths” in the products, including in Illinois. Two similar products from Fisher-Price, the 4-in-1 Rock ‘n Glide Soother and 2–in-1 Soothe ‘n Play Glider, were recalled in 2021, and the company’s Infant-to-Toddler Rocker and Newborn-to-Toddler Rocker were recalled in 2022, though those aren’t part of the new announcement.
A recalled Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play infant inclined sleeper.

A recalled Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play infant inclined sleeper.

Consumer Product Safety Commission

  • About 694,000 Kids2 inclined sleepers sold at major retailers between 2012 and 2019. Fifteen deaths have been reported in those.

Cowles says parents who’ve heard about the recalls but still aren’t taking this seriously should know that all inclined sleepers “are a deadly product for babies.”

She wants manufacturers to do more to get the word out through social media influencers and other marketing tools in an effort to get through to busy parents.

Though the items were wildly popular with parents when they first were sold in the United States in 2009, marketed as a way to calm babies’ reflux and get them to sleep, there were soon reports of injuries and deaths.

When lying at an angle greater than 10 degrees, a sleeping baby’s head can roll too far forward or to the side, blocking the airway and causing asphyxiation.

But a decade passed before the sleepers were recalled. And that was only after dozens of deaths.

Cowles says she’s sure that the death tally — based on reports to the Consumer Product Safety Commission — vastly underestimates the true toll because grieving parents might not connect a baby’s death to the product or even think to report it to the CPSC.

“Most people don’t even know what the CPSC is,” she says.

After the 2019 recalls, Congress passed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021. A “final rule” took effect last June 23 that bans all infant sleepers with a tilt of more than 10 degrees regardless of manufacturer. The federal law also bans crib bumper pads.

It’s now illegal to sell inclined sleepers anywhere in the United States, including through online reseller platforms and even at rummage sales. It’s also illegal to donate them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, based in Itasca, recommends that infants sleep alone, on their back, on a firm, flat surface in a crib, bassinet or play yard that meets federal safety standards and has no extra bedding.

No one knows how many of the millions of now-banned inclined sleepers are still in people’s homes or being passed along to friends and relatives. As of last spring, Mattel indicated that 9.5% of recalled Rock ‘n Play sleepers had been accounted for, according to Consumer Reports, the advocacy and testing organization that publishes the well-known magazine of the same name. Consumer Reports first exposed the danger in 2019.

The CPSC, hamstrung by a federal rule that gives manufacturers a large say in how recalls are undertaken, doesn’t typically disclose recall response rates reported to the agency by companies.

Alexander Hoehn-Saric, who chairs the Consumer Product Safety Commission, told the Chicago Sun-Times in November that the rule, called Section 6(b), can delay getting information to the public because the agency must first give manufacturers a chance to weigh in on any announcements. That’s a hurdle that other federal safety agencies — such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — don’t have to contend with.

“It is a big problem for us,” Hoehn-Saric said. “Consumers deserve to be able to hear about safety risks in consumer products.”

Mattel declined a request for an interview.

A spokeswoman says the company “has worked diligently to remove all recalled product from the market.”

Kids2 did not respond to requests for comment.

Some of the banned sleepers might have been thrown away long ago. But it’s possible that millions are still in circulation, waiting in a closet for a future child or stowed away at the homes of grandparents.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat and the past chair of the House subcommittee on consumer protection, pushed for the inclined sleeper ban and says the new deaths that have occurred since the recalls in 2019 show that manufacturers need to act more urgently.

On Twitter in recent days, the Mattel and Fisher-Price accounts responded to customer-service gripes but did not appear to have tweeted about the reissued recall. On Facebook, their latest posts were about new product information.

At Kids2’s corporate website, the top news story on its blog was about the company acquiring a product called the “Baby Dream Machine.” At the top of the page, in smaller type, was a line saying “Important: Reannouncement of 2019 Rocking Sleepers Recall” with a link to the CPSC announcement.

“With how much money these companies spend on advertising, they should have no problem devoting additional funding to protecting consumers, especially our precious children,” Schakowsky says.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association is “committed … to continue to improve recall effectiveness,” according to executive director Lisa Trofe.

The industry group recommends that parents monitor safety news from the CPSC and that they always complete product registration forms. It says parents also should check online for recalls before buying secondhand products for babies or children.

Cowles says there’s one more thing parents should do: Go online to report product safety problems they’ve encountered to SaferProducts.gov, where a CPSC database also lets consumers read what others have reported.

READ SUN-TIMES’ 2019 INVESTIGATION

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