Newborns can be especially difficult to get to sleep, and getting them to stay asleep for longer stretches of time can be even more challenging. In 1994, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) launched the Back to Sleep campaign that focused on what parents can do to help babies sleep safely and to reduce risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The leading recommendation was that a baby should sleep on his or her back. Studies from the early 1990s showed convincing evidence that sleeping on the stomach was tied to an increase in infant deaths. Over the years following the initial push for back sleeping, the NICHD and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called upon parents and caregivers to provide a firm, separate sleeping surface without soft objects (such as stuffed animals) or loose bedding.
Most parents find their baby’s sleeping patterns to be the number one stressor in early parenthood. I can often see this, even before parents bring the issue up during the office visit. I see parents who are bleary-eyed and yawning. They look like they just want to a nap. Of course, their baby will inevitably seem perfect during the daytime hours (and probably will sleep without a fuss during the entire visit, much to the weary parents’ chagrin). I often hear, “She hates her crib. The bassinet is worse! But I know I’m not supposed to sleep with her.” So what’s a fussy, sleepless parent of a fussy, sleepless infant to do?
Over the past 10 years, many parents turned to the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, a portable and relatively inexpensive (with many models retailing around $40) rocker-cradle combination. This was the hottest sleep product on the baby scene back in 2009. Fisher-Price has sold over 4.7 million units of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. It is the clear “alternative” (to a more traditional crib or bassinet) sleeping solution for young infants. This product doesn’t have a flat surface (which directly contradicts recommendations for “safe” sleeping surfaces). But by reading its name alone, you’d think the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was a godsend. It helps your baby “play” and “sleep.” I’ve talked to many parents who rave about the increased sleep time, improvement in reflux (most likely due to the incline), and overall improvement in the family’s nighttime routine mostly because of this product.
However, in early April 2019, Consumer Reports reported that at least 32 babies had died while using a Rock ‘n Play Sleeper between 2011 and 2018. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) then confirmed these deaths occurred “after the infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.” The AAP urged for a full recall of the product, and the CPSC as well as Fisher-Price announced a full recall of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper three days later. The AAP has warned that inclined sleepers such as these do not align with safe sleep guidelines, which state that babies should be put to bed on their backs, alone and on a firm, flat mattress, free from soft bedding or bumpers.
The Rock ’n Play Sleeper and others like it (such as the Kids II Ingenuity Moonlight Rocking Sleeper and the Kids II Bright Starts Playtime to Bedtime Sleeper) increase the risk of suffocation and strangulation.
Remember, infant sleep should be basic and boring. Use a separate, firm, flat sleep surface with a fitted sheet.