Ban on baby crib bumpers proposed in Maryland

Maryland health officials on Friday proposed banning the sale of bumpers for baby cribs starting in June 2013, concluding that the dangers they pose outweigh their potential benefits.

The proposal, if finalized, would make Maryland the first state to block these products from market. After gathering feedback and data on the topic for more than a year, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene concluded that the crib bumpers present a rare but real risk of suffocation and strangulation to babies.

“If even one baby dies as a result of a baby bumper pad, that’s one baby too many,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, the department’s secretary. “The course of action we’re taking is reasonable based on the evidence we’ve seen.”

The safety of crib bumpers, cushioned pads that line the interior lower half of cribs, has been debated for years and studied by federal regulators. Tired of waiting for a national moratorium, Chicago banned the sale of crib bumpers in 2011.

The manufacturers’ trade group has disputed the risks and maintained that the pads prevent injuries such as limb entrapments or trauma to the head if babies slam up against hard crib slats.

But a panel of health experts appointed by the state of Maryland said the industry did not present evidence to support its claims, a position also taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In October, that group advised parents to stop using crib bumpers. The recommendation was part of an initiative aimed at reducing sleep-related infant deaths.

The state cited studies that tied some infant deaths to crib bumpers. In Maryland, one child asphyxiation case has been attributed to bumpers, said David Fowler, the state’s chief medical examiner. Even sleeping too close to a bumper creates dangers by restricting air ventilation and reducing the oxygen available to the baby, he said.

In its proposal, the state is banning the sale of bumper pads made of nonmesh-type material. The ban would not apply to vertical bumpers that wrap tightly around individual crib rails or mesh crib liners, although state health officials said they do not recommend using a bumper of any kind.

Anyone who sells or ships a bumper pad to a Maryland buyer could be hit with a fine of up to $500 for each bumper under the plan, which was first floated last year.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association opposes the state’s proposal and suggests it might even be dangerous, forcing parents to adopt “makeshift substitutes” such as towels or pillows to protect babies from the sides of the crib.

The group would rather have the Consumer Product Safety Commission impose voluntary standards that the industry has already crafted.

One of those standards specifies that bumpers cannot be more than two inches thick after three washes, said Keith Schneider, who heads the panel that sets voluntary infant bedding standards.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been reviewing the safety of crib bumper pads for years and started taking a fresh look at the issue in January 2011.

“Agency staff have previously stated that overstuffed bumper pads can be hazardous and staff is currently re-examining the safety of all crib bumpers, in an effort to provide parents with our best advice,” Scott Wolfson, the agency’s spokesman, said in a statement.

Dina ElBoghdady covers housing policy for The Washington Post.
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