— A consumer alert for all parents: Baby products sold in stores today that some experts say are causing infants to die. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen goes undercover to find out more.
There’s a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying more and more babies are suffocating while sleeping, and they're warning parents to keep cribs empty. And that got us thinking about all those fluffy toys, blankets and bumpers you put in your baby's crib. They look adorable in the store displays, but some experts say infants are dying from them — because companies and stores are putting profit over safety.
We went on a shopping spree undercover at some of the most popular baby stores in the country selling the must-haves for any new parent. “That bumper is nice and soft,” one salesperson said, indicating a crib accessory.
But for years, doctors warned soft products can be deadly in cribs for kids under 1. Babies can pull pillows and toys over their faces, cutting off air. Or roll into a crib bumper and suffocate against the side.
Yet the companies continue to make them, and stores continue to push them. “You want soft for your baby,” one salesperson told us.
Soft and cuddly can cost you dearly. A baby boy named Preston was just 7 weeks old when he suffocated in his crib. The official cause of death: “The face being wedged a crib bumper and mattress.”
“I just sat on my knees, rocking back and forth with my child that was gone,” Preston’s mother, Laura Maxwell, said.
Preston's parents thought the bumper would actually protect their baby because it was marketed that way, sold in baby stores nationwide: How could it be dangerous? They’re now suing the store and the manufacturer.
The CDC say that in 2009 alone, 665 babies died from “accidental suffocation of strangulation while in bed.” Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a specific warning about crib bumpers — that they can be dangerous and parents should never use them. In Chicago, stores are now banned from selling bumpers, and Maryland may follow suit. Some doctors say that's just not enough.
Dr. Eileen Tyrala, pediatrician and medical director of Cribs for Kids, said, “The manufacturers should stop making the bumpers, which really have no place in a baby's crib and no place, therefore, ever.”
So we went straight to the group representing all those companies. “Doctors say they’re dangerous, yet these companies continue to make them and market them,” we said. “The question is: Why?”
“Parents need to make a decision for themselves what items they would like to use inside their crib,” Linda Woody of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association said. “And crib bumpers do prevent head injures and limb entrapment.”
“So you're putting it all on the parents, basically? They're not the experts.”
“Parents are truly the experts of their child,” Woody said.
“Actually, doctors and pediatricians are the experts,” we said. “And they're the ones who say that these are unsafe.”
“I also think that parents in concert with their pediatricians and themselves, they know what's best for their family,” Woody said.
But experts say it’s hard to know what’s best with the kind of confusing message you get at many stores. When we asked a clerk at Target who handled the baby section and claimed to have had all the training on cribs for crib bumper, no warning at all.
“So that's good, to have a nice, soft thing to keep the baby safe?” we asked. “Even the newborns?”
“Especially the newborns.”
At Babies “R” Us, one clerk actually warned us about bumpers: “You shouldn't use these anymore.” But then another clerk chimed in: Well, maybe they are OK for babies.
“After like 3 months or something, they have a built-in mechanism: If they can’t get air, they turn,” the clerk said. But, doctors say, that's not true: In fact, around 3 months old babies are most at risk.
At buybuy Baby, the clerks did warn us: “When the baby is in the crib, there is nothing supposed to be in the crib.” So why, just feet away, were displayed crib after crib loaded with what doctors say are dangerous accessories that have no place with a sleeping baby?
“No juvenile product will ever be a substitution for parenting,” Linda Woody said. “And parents know this. And they're smart.”
But the Maxwells, baby Preston's parents, say they are smart — and that wasn't enough.
“I want them to take them off the shelf,” Laura Maxwell said. “Don't try making millions of dollars, don't try putting the blame or responsibility on anyone other than themselves.”
The industry says they put safety first, and this is not about making money. Some products they sell do have safety warnings in the packaging.
Here's the takeaway: If your baby is younger than 1, doctors say, there should be nothing in the crib except the baby. They say infants are safest in a sleep sack you zip up. Toys, stuffed animals, blankies, all OK — just not in the crib.