For a safe sleep environment, experts recommend making sure there's nothing at all in the crib, including crib bumpers. Photo: iStock/dusanpetkovic
Here's a quick history lesson on crib bumpers: They were invented because the spaces between crib slats used to be wide enough that a baby’s head could become entrapped. But when improvements in crib regulations were introduced to reduce slat spacing, bumpers were no longer needed.
They're still available to purchase, though. These days, parents tend to use crib bumpers to provide a more comfy, cushiony environment for their baby, or to prevent their baby’s limbs from getting stuck. Parents also add bumpers to their baby's crib to keep pacifiers from falling out, because getting woken up at 2 a.m. to a screaming baby who just needs their soother popped back in isn't fun for anyone. Unfortunately, the benefits don’t outweigh the risks. A 2016 study examined injuries and fatalities caused by crib bumpers between 1985 and 2012 and found that 146 infant deaths and 48 injuries were the direct result of bumpers in the child’s sleep space.
OK, but what about crib bumpers made out of mesh, which were designed to have “breathability”? Surely mesh bumpers are safer? Nope.
The first problem is the word "breathable." Breathability is an unregulated marketing term and in fact refers to the ability of water to pass through fabric.
What's more, although it’s possible mesh bumpers may reduce suffocation risk, they continue to cause injuries and fatalities by entanglement or strangulation. A recent report from the US Product Safety Commission found that 13 percent of crib-bumper injuries between 2008 and 2019 were attributed to the mesh kind.
The bottom line is this: There is no evidence that any type of bumper prevents injury or death—but there’s some evidence they can cause them. For now, the safest way for an infant to sleep follows the “ABCs”: Alone, on their Back, or in a Crib/Cot, without additional blankets, cushions or bumpers—mesh or otherwise. Hot tip: If your baby's pacifier keeps falling out, try scattering multiple pacifers around the crib!