Just like there are many choices for a toddler mattresses and kids mattress, the selection of baby sleepers is also vast. From bassinets and baby swings to cradles and co-sleepers, there are hundreds of options for parents to choose from, each offering unique advantages. However, as you look for the right sleeper, you're likely to come across inclined sleepers in your search.
"These foam-based devices are intended to keep your child at an incline of around 15 to 30 degrees," according to Suzy Giordano an infant sleep specialist and author of Twelve Hours' Sleep By Twelve Weeks Old.
While inclined sleepers are said to assist with reflux and GERD by their manufacturers, they have given rise to notable safety worries in recent years, particularly following the implementation of the Safe Sleep For Babies Act in the United States.
To clear up any concerns you may have on this issue, we've consulted with Giordano and Debbie Gerken, RNC-NICU, a registered nurse and certified pediatric gentle sleep coach, to discuss everything you need to know about inclined sleepers, including how these youth and infant sleep products work, safety concerns, and whether sleeping on an incline has benefits for older kids.
Inclined sleepers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but Giordano says most look like a small, cushioned bed with a tilted surface to keep babies at a 15 to 30-degree angle. "Some of these sleepers have a foam wedge, while others have anti-roll edges to keep babies in place," she tells Today's Parent. "They might also have safety features like harnesses or restraints."
According to Gerken, inclined sleepers are meant to assist with problems such as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or other issues where an elevated angle may bring relief to the child. "inclined sleepers are intended to reduce the likelihood of stomach contents flowing back in the esophagus or congestion from settling in a child’s nasal passages," she tells Today's Parent.
It's no surprise that adult versions are popular with parents-to-be who experience nausea and heartburn.
"The elevation of the inclined sleeper should, in theory, provide relief for people with these symptoms and promote better sleep."
While certain inclined sleepers boast safety features, Giordano argues that the risks are more significant than the benefits."One of the biggest risks associated with inclined sleepers is falling, which the anti-roll feature discourages but doesn't truly prevent," she explains.
Another concern is the risk of suffocation from the chin-to-chest sleeping position, which Giordano says can obstruct the baby's airway. "There is also a potential risk of developing plagiocephaly, or a flat head, in infants who use inclined sleepers," she adds, noting this is a concern for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well.
The Safe Sleep for Babies Act, passed in the United States in 2022, prohibits the sale of inclined sleepers and bumpers to address safety concerns. According to Gerken, the act also aims to increase awareness of safe sleep practices and the need for parents to be well-informed and cautious when purchasing products for their children.
Gerken says that newborns should not sleep on an incline. She explains, "Using inclined sleep surfaces for newborns can increase the risk of suffocation, positional asphyxia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Because newborns do not have the muscle strength or coordination to adjust their position appropriately if they encounter difficulties breathing while sleeping on an incline, it is strongly recommended that newborns are always put down on a firm, flat surface for sleep."
While inclined sleep surfaces are generally not recommended for infants because of safety concerns, there are situations where older children may benefit from sleeping on an incline under medical supervision. This is particularly relevant for older children with respiratory conditions, reflux, and congestion.
According to Gerken, "For older children with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleeping on an incline can prevent or reduce acid from going up into the esophagus, thereby reducing discomfort from heartburn or possible vomiting. Also, raising the head slightly during sleep can aid in easier breathing and mucus drainage for older children with cold or allergy congestion."
Giordano suggests that you can replicate the effect of inclined sleepers at home without any risks by utilizing items already present in your home. "Just roll up a couple of towels and put them under one end of your child's mattress for a little incline. That way, your child is a bit raised but still on a firm, mostly flat surface," she tells Today's Parent.
To ease your little one's congestion, Giordano advises promoting hydration and using a humidifier. She suggests, "Combine that with some saline and the dreaded bulb and your baby will be sleeping like, well a baby, in no time!"
For older kids who are dealing with a cough, congestion, and allergies, sleepers like Tum&Bum can be helpful. This particular sleeper is designed for toddlers and aims to alleviate symptoms such as coughing, congestion, and acid reflux. It positions the child’s upper body at a 40 percent angle, which is intended to reduce coughing and promote better sleep.
However, it’s important to note that the use of inclined sleep surfaces for children should be discussed with and supervised by a medical professional. The same goes for introducing any other new equipment to a child's sleep environment. Products should also be vetted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
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