The verdict on crib bumpers in Maryland is coming down today. As I wrote about a few months back, The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been mulling whether to ban their sale in the state. Officials will announce the decision at 11 a.m. today.

Earlier this year, a state advisory panel recommended the ban after its own examination turned up a local case of child asphyxiation that the state’s Chief Medical Examiner attributed to a bumper. [pdf]

Health experts have long advised against the use of padded bumpers, which attach inside the slats of cribs, but Maryland would be the first state to outright ban their sale. Just a few weeks ago, Chicago became the first city to issue a ban. That action came after a Chicago Tribune investigation found that federal regulators had inadequately investigated more than two dozen cases of infant suffocation where crib bumpers were involved.

An all out ban may seem excessive, but it may be the only way to spread the message that bumpers can be extremely dangerous. If an infant rolls into a padded corner of his crib, he may not have the physical ability to move his face away.

Many parents buy them without knowing the risk. Parenting magazines are filled with images of overly-decorated nurseries, complete with color-coordinated cozy-looking crib bumpers. (A 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics analyzed magazine images and found that only about a third of those portraying sleeping babies showed safe environments.)

Since parents tend not to follow much child-rearing news until after they have kids, they walk into the closest big box baby store, see bumpers for sale and assume they’re safe.

The puffy ones are not. No matter if they’re decorated with lambs or Winnie-the-Poohs, they needlessly increase the risk of infant suffocation (and, later, toddler injuries, when children can use them as stepping stools to jump out of cribs). Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of Maryland’s DHMH already advises against their use, but his guidance, like the warnings from pediatricians, can’t compete with the marketing push.

It’d be great if magazine editors and retailers stopped pushing the bumpers or if The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association called for a voluntary recall. That’s not happening any time soon. In fact, the association has instead fought the bans by raising questions about the suffocation risks and suggested that any problems with bumpers could be the fault of parents installing them incorrectly. Meanwhile, crib bumpers keep appearing on baby registry lists.