Chicago passed a ban on the sale of crib bumper pads Thursday night, amidst concern that babies can suffocate on the bumpers. It's the first city to pass such a ban, although a similar prohibition is being considered in Maryland.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Bradley Thach, a professor of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "It's been shown a number of times that a baby's face can get pressed up against the bumper or the baby can get wedged between the bumper and the mattress, both of which cause suffocation."
Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' task force on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), agrees and has other concerns as well. "There can also be a rebreathing of carbon dioxide if a baby is pressed against something that doesn't allow you to get fresh air," he said. "You begin to inhale air that is high in carbon dioxide and low in oxygen, which can inhibit brain function and the reflex to turn away. This can lead to a slowed heart rate, slowed breathing and, eventually, death."
It's unclear if the definition of "bumper pad" under the law will include mesh liners and other "safe" alternatives. But Thach thinks it may not matter. "I would say just to forgo them altogether. All they do is potentially prevent minor bumps, which a baby could still sustain by standing up in the crib," he said.
Plus, bumper pads may not be necessary anymore. "The slats on cribs used to be so far apart," said Goodstein. "Now, they're much closer together, and the need for bumpers has diminished drastically, if not completely."
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that if parents are going to use bumpers, avoid ones that are "pillow-like."
But Goodstein said they're just not worth it: "There's a danger with bumpers, and that outweighs any benefit."