New parents like me love the contoured plastic infant seat known as the Bumbo. It allows babies to sit upright before they have the strength to do so themselves, and it can serve as a booster seat when they are first learning to eat solid foods.
But the real appeal of the $49.99 chair—3.85 million of which have been sold in the U.S. since 2003—was always that you could plunk your baby down anywhere for a few seconds while you fixed a snack or moved the laundry, confident that he or she would be safe and happy.
No more. In November, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Bumbo International issued a warning to parents and caregivers never to place babies sitting in Bumbos on tables, countertops, chairs or other raised surfaces. At least 45 infants have fallen out of Bumbos on elevated surfaces—including 17 who fractured their skulls—since a 2007 recall of the product. After that recall, the Bumbo was re-released with new on-product warnings.
Before the new CPSC statement came out, I regularly put my daughter in the Bumbo on raised surfaces, usually atop the coffee table (see photo). Yes, this is despite the red lettering on the side of the chair that says, “WARNING: NEVER USE ON A RAISED SURFACE.” (This was not my greatest parenting decision to date, and I feel fortunate that my daughter never got hurt.) But as a new mother, it’s difficult to decide which warnings are “real.” Sometimes it seems like every article of baby gear—from my daughter’s bedding to her puff cereal to her teething ring—comes with a warning. So I took a chance, though it didn’t really feel like one: Almost every new parent I know has a Bumbo and I’ve never met a baby who has gotten hurt in one.
My daughter grew out of the Bumbo right around the time of the statement, so we don’t use it anymore. People who do want to keep using it should only do so on the floor and under adult supervision, according to the company. These caveats somewhat negate its usefulness.
Parents can still coo when they see their babies sit upright by themselves for the first time. Babies seem to love to be off the rug and able to see around the room. (Of course, infants should spend their leisure time on their bellies in order to build strength. But especially in the beginning, “tummy time” typically ends in tears, so the Bumbo is a nice backup plan for playtime.)
The Bumbo won’t be as helpful for solid-food feedings when it’s on the ground—a high-chair pulled up to the kitchen table will be much more comfortable for mom or dad to feed the baby. Parents can probably skip the $11.99 “play tray” attachment. It’s too bad, because the Bumbo is a breeze to clean with a sponge or a wipe. But all that rice cereal and sweet potato puree can create one final problem for the Bumbo: The baby’s thighs tend to outgrow the snug leg openings.
Do you use a bumbo with your child? What has been your experience?
Rachel Saslow is a former Washington Post staff writer. She lives in the District with her husband and daughter.