Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play baby sleepers were recalled in April of 2019 due to a record of infant deaths caused by asphyxiation or smothering. A Consumer Reports investigation brought to light 32 confirmed Rock ‘n Play sleeper deaths. Experts have questioned the safety of the device since its inception, yet executives at Fisher-Price and parent company Mattel denied any Rock ‘n Play sleeper risks. As a result, millions of parents across the United States exposed their newborn child to a fatal risk at no fault of their own. Our hearts go out to the many families whose child was harmed or died as a result of Rock ‘n Play design defects. This page provides a comprehensive look at Rock ‘n Play dangers.
In the early 1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) launched it “Back to Sleep” campaign, which promoted safe sleep guidelines for infants. Designed to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), the guidelines prescribed firm, flat, wide sleeping conditions for newborns. No more pillows, blankets, or crib bumpers; babies were to be dressed warmly and put to sleep flat on their backs. Research had revealed that babies sleeping flat on their backs were most likely to awake themselves should their breathing become irregular or restricted. This widespread campaign, promoted in hospitals and pediatric offices nationwide, resulted in a significant drop in SIDS incidents in the United States.
Given that history, it’s hard imagine how a product like the Rock ‘n Play sleeper was ever designed for “all-night” sleep. Multiple aspects of the design violate those early “Back to Sleep” guidelines (which are now known as “Safe to Sleep”): rather than a flat surface, the baby rests at a 30-degree incline; rather than a wide, firm surface, the infant’s head is cradled by a plush cushion. These elements have resulted in inclined sleeper deaths.
The Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play is not the only product in the dangerous inclined sleeper category, but it was the first. The product was developed by a dad whose pediatrician recommended laying his baby to sleep at an incline to ward off acid reflux. He found his baby slept more soundly and set out to design a product that would help babies get more continuous sleep at night. The Rock ‘n Play sleeper was released in 2009 as a bassinet, and marketed as “safe for overnight sleep”, despite its disregard for safe sleeping guidelines. Because the product helped babies sleep more soundly, it made infants less likely to wake when their breathing was compromised.
In 2010, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) updated its mandatory standards for cribs and bassinets to reflect the new awareness of infant sleep safety: infant sleep surfaces were required to have an angle of 5 degrees or less. The Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play did not meet the new safety standards because of its inclined design, and its parent company, Mattel, went to bat for this new and popular product. Kitty Pilarz of Mattel successfully advocated for an exemption from bassinet standards, arguing that tired, desperate parents would create even more dangerous sleep conditions for their babies if the product became unavailable. Roy Benaroch, MD, professor of pediatrics at Emory University understands why parents find the product appealing but argues that using it results in “an increased risk of death”.
By 2013, CPSC rules that inclined sleep product would be excluded from mandatory safety standards and created a separate class of products, inclined sleepers. A committee was convened (led by Fisher-Price designer/engineer who was pivotal in the development of the deadly Rock ‘n Play) to create voluntary guidelines for inclined sleepers. The new guidelines, which were released in 2015, validated the Rock ‘n Play design.
The product remained on the market until April of 2019; between 2011 and 2018, at least 32 infant Rock ‘n Play deaths were been recorded. The defective Rock ‘n Play design can result in positional asphyxia and smothering. Positional asphyxia occurs when the baby’s head lolls forward or to the side, compromising the airway. Smothering occurs when the child rolls over in the sleeper and is smothered by the plush cushions. The Ingenuity Moonlight Rocking Sleeper by Kids II has been linked to four infant sleeper deaths.
All 4.7 million deadly Rock ‘n Play devices have been recalled. Approximately one Rock ‘n Play was sold for every eight babies born during that time span, and many parents pass their used items on to friends. It is believed that many of these dangerous inclined sleepers are still in use in homes across America.
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