There’s a picture of me at around age one, propped up in a green baby walker with a big grin on my face. “You loved it!” my mother is fond of saying, followed by the story of how I used this particularly treacherous product to fall down a (small) flight of stairs. Apparently I wasn’t the only one—there were enough injuries from these walkers that by the time I had my own baby, 30-odd years later, they were banned in Canada. But this required a huge campaign over many years. “It’s really difficult to make a product unavailable to consumers,” says Claude Cyr, a paediatrician in Sherbrooke, Que., who works on the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Injury Prevention Committee. Cyr explains that a ban can only be implemented when the product in question is dangerous when used as directed, not just under some circumstances.
Plus, banning is usually the last step in a comprehensive strategy, after educating the public about the product and introducing new guidelines for manufacturers to follow, says Cyr.
As a result, there are plenty of baby products sold in Canada that still pose hazards for your little one, especially if you’re not using them correctly. “A couple of years ago, a medical student did a project with me where he went around to stores selling baby stuff in Calgary and the displays were a million miles from what we recommended,” says Ian Mitchell, a paediatrician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and a professor of paediatrics at the University of Calgary.
Here are 12 products currently on store shelves with the highest potential to be dangerous, depending on how you use them.
Swings don't meet the criteria for safe sleep, which state that baby should sleep on a firm, flat surface without any loose bedding near them, says Ben Hoffman, a paediatrician and the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “Using a swing when the baby is awake and supervised is OK, but once a baby falls asleep in the swing, it becomes dangerous,” he explains. When a baby is sleeping in a swing, a big concern is that their head can flop forward and make it hard for them to breathe, says Hoffman. This obstruction of the airway is called positional asphyxiation. The same risk is present in a car seat and an inclined bouncer (which is why babies should not sleep in their bucket seats once they're removed from the vehicle, where the seat's position and safety straps outweigh the risk). With swings, other concerns are that your baby could become entangled in the straps, turn their head and suffocate against the soft padding or roll over in the swing, which can happen even if parents use the straps properly.Photo: Getty Images
Fisher-Price's popular US product, the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, was recalled on April 12, 2019 after an investigation by Consumer Reports linked the inclined sleeper to 32 deaths, but it wasn't initially recalled in Canada, all because of labelling. Health Canada says the Canadian version of the product, the Rock ‘n Play Soothing Seat, was still available because it was never marketed as a sleeper here. “Health Canada is aware of the Fisher Price Rock ’n Play Soothing Seat,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Since this seat is not intended for sleep, it is not subject to the Cribs, Cradles and Bassinets Regulations.” On January 29, 2020, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also announced voluntary recalls of four additional baby seat brands, which look quite similar to the Rock ‘n Play: the Graco Little Lounger Rocking Seat, the Summer Infant Swaddleme By Your Bed Inclined Sleeper, the Evenflo Pillo Portable Napper, and the Delta Children Beautyrest Beginnings Incline Sleeper. Any bassinet, sleeper or seat at an angle of more than 10 degrees puts your baby at risk for suffocation and positional asphyxiation.
Paediatrician Michael Dickinson, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Paediatric Society, says it’s “crazy” that seats like these are still available as hand-me-downs and being used by Canadian parents. “We know that babies in the United States are identical to the babies here in Canada. We know that Canadian parents are probably going to use the device similarly to how it was used in the United States. It makes no sense that a device that has already been recognized as potentially harmful, lethal to babies is allowed to be sold and distributed in Canada.”Photo: Walmart.ca
We know, the crib looks bare without them and the catalogues and design sites always set up nurseries with cute matching crib sets—bumper pads included. But there’s strong evidence that bumper pads increase the risk of death because babies can press their faces into them, get caught in the ties and use them to climb out of cribs once they’re older and more mobile. Both the Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend not using crib bumpers (in fact, they are banned in some parts of the US, including Chicago and Maryland), and a major US study published in 2007 clearly attributed infant deaths to crib bumpers. “They are fashion accessories,” says Cyr. “They have no use, and they are potentially dangerous.” Parents commonly ignore the guidelines and choose crib bumpers because they’re worried that their babies will stick their arms or legs out of their cribs or bump their heads while rolling in their sleep. But babies aren’t really strong enough to seriously injure themselves in this way, so crib bumpers aren’t necessary and can cause way more harm than good. Mesh bumper pads (which are sometimes marketed as a more breathable option) are also not recommended by experts.Photo: iStockphoto
While the upright push toys that help babies learn to walk are fine to use, the ones that surround the baby with a tray and are used by babies to move themselves around (they sometimes look like ExerSaucers on wheels) have been illegal in Canada since 2004. Canadian manufacturers voluntarily stopped making this type of walker for more than a decade before that. Though the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that the US follow suit, these walkers continue to be available for sale south of the border. And we know Canadian parents are still acquiring them somehow, because doctors report that they’re causing injuries here.Photo: iStockphoto
For the most part, drop-side cribs are already off the market. The movable sides can drop unexpectedly and cause injury and even death. As of December, it will be illegal in Canada to sell, import, manufacture and advertise them (they’re already illegal in the US). Parents should also avoid using cribs made before September 1986, when safety standards became more stringent.Photo: iStockphoto
These might be the next products we see banned, says Cyr. “The Canadian Paediatric Society is trying to remove bath seats from the marketplace because they are mostly dangerous,” he says. “They make parents feel like they can leave their babies unattended, but there is no safe way to leave a baby alone in the bathtub—even for a moment.” Infant deaths have occurred when the seats have tipped over or when babies have climbed out or slipped through the leg openings.Photo: amazon.ca
These foam positioners are used to keep infants propped up—billed as a solution to issues surrounding reflux—or on their backs while sleeping, but babies can roll over or slide down and suffocate on them. If you have a tummy sleeper (who is at least five months old and able to roll onto her stomach and back again), it’s OK to let your baby remain on her tummy—just make sure that you always put your baby down on her back to sleep.Photo: amazon.ca
Some co-sleeping and bed-sharing parents prefer to put their babies in a mini-bassinet that sits in the middle of the parents’ bed, such as the increasingly popular DockATot and Snuggle Nest-style products. But Cyr doesn’t recommend this type of sleeping environment, explaining that parents could still roll over onto their babies. Once infants learn to roll over, these products pose the same hazards as bumper pads: Babies can get their faces stuck against the sides and suffocate, even if they’re made of breathable materials. For nighttime sleep, when you are unable to keep an eye on your baby, it’s safer to put your baby beside the bed on a safe sleeping surface that has a firm mattress, like a bassinet or crib.Photo: amazon.ca
These crib-like products only have three sides, so they can nestle right up against your bed, often attached with a strap. That may be convenient, especially for reaching over and grabbing the baby for a middle-of-the-night nursing session, but it can be unsafe because the baby could get trapped in the gap between the mattresses, according to Health Canada. Even if it doesn’t look like there is a gap after you install a bedside co-sleeper, the weight of a parent getting on the bed can shift the mattress or sink it, creating a gap.Photo: amazon.ca
It’s nice to have baby at eye level, but baby seats like the Bumbo can be dangerous if you place them on high surfaces, like countertops and dinner tables, and your child falls. That was highlighted in a 2012 recall that resulted in added straps to the Bumbo, as well as a warning against putting the seats on anything but the floor. It’s also important to make sure that your baby is always supervised and not placed near anything dangerous, like electrical cords, says Cyr.Photo: amazon.ca
All carriers and slings aren’t inherently dangerous; it’s just that they’re often misused and the learning curve is steep for new parents. “Carriers are really good for a baby’s temperament and very practical,” says Cyr. But if the baby isn’t positioned properly, there’s a risk that they could fall out or suffocate. In 2013, Health Canada reminded parents to follow directions, make sure that their carriers are in good shape and ensure that babies are “visible and kissable” when they’re in soft carriers and slings. Unstructured pouch slings, ring slings and bag slings pose more of a suffocation risk for younger infants than Mei Tai, Moby, Boba and Baby K’tan fabric wraps. Ergobaby, Beco and BabyBjörn make popular structured carriers that some parents find easier to use (fewer tucks, folds and ties means less room for error).Photo: infantino.com
Warm-mist humidifiers can get dangerously hot to the touch (if you have a baby who can crawl or walk, he or she will be interested in touching the mist—trust us), so if you use one, make sure that both the humidifier and the cord are safely out of baby’s reach. Warm- and cool-mist humidifiers can also grow mould if they’re not cleaned properly. “If you have a problem with really dry air, I recommend filling a large plate with water and leaving it in your baby’s room,” says Cyr. “It’s as simple as that.”Photo: iStockphoto
This story was originally published in October 2016.