As the U.S. delayed regulating baby lounger pillows, infants died

NBC News has found that at least five babies have died in incidents linked to infant loungers since late September 2021, based on CPSC records and reports made to the agency. Four days after the CPSC’s vote and less than a week after the Boppy recall, a 3-month-old boy from Texas died while sleeping in the company’s lounger; his father had fallen asleep and woke up to find his child lying facedown, according to a report that local officials submitted to the CPSC. The following spring, according to another report, a 4-month-old died from asphyxiation on a lounger produced in China that was advertised on Amazon as “perfect for co-sleeping.” In addition to those five deaths, NBC News determined that at least 21 other babies died in infant loungers from December 2015 through September 2021, more than twice as many deaths as the CPSC cited in public warnings about specific brands of loungers. This count is based on an examination of government data, court documents, public reports reviewed by the CPSC, medical examiners’ reports, and records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. (See the full methodology below.) Many of the incident reports cited suffocation, asphyxiation or a loss of oxygen as the cause of death, and seven lawsuits accused the loungers of causing the babies’ deaths. In some of the reports to the CPSC, the loungers were listed as one of multiple factors contributing to an unsafe sleep environment, while in others, no cause of death was listed. In one instance, after an 11-day-old baby died of Covid in a lounger, a local government agency identified “unsafe sleep” as a potential factor in the death. All of the babies were under a year old; the youngest was 4 days old.“It is infuriating, and it’s senseless,” said Megan Parker, of Alton, Illinois, whose 2-month-old daughter, Layla, died in a Boppy lounger in 2019. “I don’t understand why they wouldn’t push that information out there, knowing that there are more deaths that are not reported. It could save lives.” Layla Parker is shown here just after she was born. Courtesy Parker FamilyThe 26 deaths tallied by NBC News are almost certainly an undercount, according to product safety experts, as autopsies do not always mention specific consumer products. “The death certificate is not clear, and if it doesn’t list the product, then you don’t know,” said NJ Scheers, a statistician and former CPSC staff member who reviewed NBC News’ methodology.Do you have a tip or story to share about product safety hazards? Contact us Before it was recalled, the Boppy Newborn Lounger was beloved by many parents who discovered that even the fussiest of newborns tended to relax in the round, slightly recessed cushion. Other loungers are rectangular or oval-shaped, with a raised perimeter surrounding a cushioned pad. While the CPSC closely oversees infant sleep products, loungers have largely escaped regulation because they are described as a place for babies to lay while they’re awake. That means that most loungers are not subject to a new federal rule that bans inclined surfaces and other potential hazards in infant sleep products. Yet newborns can quickly fall asleep at any time. Some companies explicitly advise customers to “transition” their babies to a crib or bassinet if they fall asleep on a lounger, but that does not always happen. And for years, photos of infants peacefully snoozing in loungers have proliferated on social media, muddying the message that the product should not be used for sleep.  “If you have a product that looks like it’s good for sleep, you can’t claim that it’s not a sleep product.”CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric “You can’t put that burden on parents,” CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said in a recent interview. “If you have a product that looks like it’s good for sleep, you can’t claim that it’s not a sleep product.”In some of the cases reviewed by NBC News, caregivers placed the loungers inside a crib. Other cases involved co-sleeping with the baby in a lounger on a bed beside the caregiver. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines recommend babies sleep alone on their backs on a firm, flat mattress in a crib or bassinet with no loose blankets, pillows, crib bumpers or other soft items. Industry representatives argue that loungers are not hazardous if used as intended: on the floor as a place to lay down babies who are awake and closely monitored. “Boppy products, including the Newborn Lounger, have never been marketed as infant sleep products,” Amy St. Germain, a spokesperson for The Boppy Company, said in a statement. “They are intended to aid parents during awake time only and include warnings against unsupervised use.” The Boppy lounger is distinct from the company’s popular, horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow, which has not been recalled. Nursing pillows have also been tied to reports of deaths, prompting the CPSC to investigate and warn caregivers against using them for sleep.The decision to put off new regulations for baby loungers in 2021 was part of a series of amendments that the CPSC Office of Inspector General later criticized as violating rules requiring advance notice to the commission of major proposed changes. In a statement to NBC News, CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr., a Democratic appointee who joined the commission in December 2021, called the delay a “grave error” by the prior commission that put babies’ lives at risk. “It delayed meaningful change that could have started protecting infants,” Trumka said. “It set us back and delayed safety benefits to the public.”Instead of pursuing a hard rule, the CPSC took a piecemeal approach to address the issue: The agency commissioned a research study on infant pillows, a category that includes both infant loungers and nursing pillows; worked with the industry to develop voluntary safety standards for loungers; and took enforcement action against individual manufacturers. “CPSC has long warned of the dangers of putting infants to sleep in products not intended for sleep, including soft, pillow-like products,” the CPSC said in a statement to NBC News. “When we develop evidence of hazards — especially that a product is associated with infant deaths — we can and have prioritized these risks and taken action to warn and protect consumers from products posing such risks.” CPSC Commissioner Peter Feldman, one of the Republicans who removed infant pillow regulations from the 2022 operating plan, said that the agency “simply had not yet laid the required groundwork” necessary to move forward at the time, and that taking shortcuts could have made any new requirements vulnerable to being overturned in court.  “The Commission cannot act rashly. A rule that is stayed or overturned offers zero consumer protection.” CPSC Commissioner Peter Feldman“The Commission cannot act rashly,” Feldman said in a statement. “A rule that is stayed or overturned offers zero consumer protection.”Dana Baiocco, the other Republican commissioner at the time, declined to comment. The CPSC will begin considering a rule on infant loungers as soon as next month, according to two agency employees, having secured a Democratic majority last summer.But any action is too late for families who have already lost children.“This thing was defective as designed,” said Joe Zarzaur, a Florida-based attorney representing a family whose baby died in a Boppy lounger in 2020 just before she turned 5 months old. “It should have never been available as a product at any point in time.” ‘Beyond loved’On the night that 2-month-old Layla died in December 2019, Parker, her husband and their 1-year-old twins were out of town visiting relatives. Layla was staying at Parker’s mother’s house in Missouri. At around 4 a.m., Parker was awoken by a panicked call from her mom. Layla was not breathing, Parker’s mother screamed through the phone.The baby had fallen asleep on a Boppy lounger, where she endured “horrific suffering and death by suffocation,” attorneys for Parker and her husband allege in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against The Boppy Company and Parker’s mother. The lawsuit accuses Parker’s mother of negligence and argues that Boppy should have recognized that the “unreasonably dangerous design” of the lounger could cause infants to suffocate. Boppy and an attorney for Parker’s mother denied the allegations in court filings and declined to comment further. In responses sent to the CPSC about other deaths reported to the federal government, the company wrote, “At Boppy, our collective hearts ache for any parent who has lost a child,” and added that its products “are safe when used properly.”Layla had just started smiling and was adored by her older sisters, who had…

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