Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Tex.) said he understood the business case for selling the Rock ’n Play, even as it was banned in other countries, but said that “I just don’t feel it was the moral thing” to do.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said parents “never would have bought it” had they known how little safety research went into the device’s design.
Monday’s hearing was convened to discuss a new congressional report looking at the safety lapses that allowed Fisher-Price to sell the Rock ’n Play — the first product of its kind to allow babies to sleep at an incline. Parents loved it. Fisher-Price sold nearly 5 million of them.
But a 2019 Washington Post investigation found that Fisher-Price developed the Rock ’n Play based on faulty beliefs about infant sleep, with no clinical research into whether it was safe. Rather than seeking the advice of pediatricians, it consulted just a single family physician whose expertise had already been questioned by judges and who would later lose his medical license.
Fisher-Price took its hit product off the market in 2019 in a move coordinated with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. At the time, the deaths of more than 30 babies were associated with the inclined sleeper. That number would grow to more than 90. The fatalities appeared to be caused by accidental suffocation, sometimes occurring when babies rolled onto their stomachs in the device.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for more than 15 years — before the Rock ’n Play was even sold — that babies sleep on their backs on hard, flat surfaces. The effort is part of a campaign to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, which experts still do not fully understand but believe can be reduced by cutting certain risk factors, such as unsafe sleep environments.
Last week, the CPSC voted to ban all inclined sleepers as part of a sweeping overhaul of the regulation of infant sleep surfaces.
Ynon Kreiz, chief executive of Mattel, the parent company of Fisher-Price, tried to reassure the House committee that the company had improved its safety practices and now consults with pediatricians on product development.
But he denied that the Rock ’n Play was dangerous when used properly — a reference to fatalities associated with infants who were not properly strapped into the inclined seat.
“We believe the product was safe when used in accordance with the instructions,” Kreiz said.
That led Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) to question whether the company was blaming parents for the infant deaths, saying he wondered whether the company viewed the loss of life “as the cost of doing business.”
Kreiz rejected Sarbanes’s characterization.
Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Tex.) asked Kreiz why Fisher-Price consulted only one doctor with a checkered past before marketing the Rock ’n Play.
Kreiz said the doctor gave them “good advice.” But, he said, “it’s fair to say we would not use him” now.
Fisher-Price last week recalled two more infant products — both inclined devices in which babies might fall asleep. But unlike the Rock ’n Play, they were not designed for long periods of sleep. The Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Rock ’n Glide Soother was associated with four deaths. A similar product, the 2-in-1 Soothe ’n Play Glider, was also taken off the market.
Another Fisher-Price product caught the eye of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). She showed the executives an ad for the Fisher-Price Sweet Snugapuppy Dreams Deluxe Bouncer. She wanted to know whether parents might be confused by a product that looks like an inclined sleeper, though the instructions say it is not “for prolonged sleep.”
“You market it as a product where babies will dream, a.k.a. sleep,” Porter said. “And yet it is not safe for a baby to sleep in it.”
Porter asked Chuck Scothon, general manager of Fisher-Price, to commit to changing the name.
He said he would look into the issue.