Research Finds Crib Ads Tend To Promote Unsafe Infant Sleep

crib ads show unsafe infant sleep practices

A new study says that over a quarter of current ads by crib manufacturers depict sleep conditions that put the crib-sleeping infant at higher risk of SIDS.

We’ve all been enthralled by the commercials. Babies asleep on their tummies, covered to their shoulders by a plush blanket, surrounded by stuffed toy animals. What a cute bumper lining the crib! While these cozy visuals may create successful sales for crib manufacturers, they’re also inadvertently selling parents something else — unsafe crib-sleeping practices.

A new American study, published in December in the journal Pediatrics, has found that 35% of current advertisements — or roughly 2 out of every 5 — by crib manufacturers depict infant sleep conditions that put the crib-sleeping infant at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

While the study did find that crib ads have become significantly more in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe infant sleep recommendations through the years, this has only been for white babies. Babies of other races and ethnicities continue to be overwhelmingly shown in unsafe infant sleep environments — in fact, the study could not find a single ad depicting a non-white baby in a crib-sleeping scenario that wholly followed the AAP recommendations. Likewise, SIDS is more common in black infants than white infants.

And upwards of 95% of all SIDS cases are attributed to the prevalence of more than 1 risk factor that caregivers had control over.

Researchers in this new study analyzed both magazine ads and point-of-purchase, in-store crib displays from the years 1992, 2010, and 2015. The study found the most common AAP crib-sleeping recommendations not followed to be the use of bumper pads and loose bedding. Other unsafe crib-sleeping practices included the use of soft mattresses, fluffy toys, gaps between the mattress and the side of the crib, and babies lying on their tummies.

While there are still questions as to the causes of SIDS, the current theory is that infants get into positions that lead to rebreathing their exhaled air and they then suffocate. The AAP recommendations focus on crib-sleeping environments that reduce the risk of babies finding their faces up against a soft object, like a stuffed animal or bumper bad, where rebreathing is more likely.

Over time, the rate of SIDS in the United States has declined, but there are still tragic cases each year. Infant sleep safety education, for crib-sleeping and cosleeping, continues to be important. But while the focus of this education has largely been on parents, and the health care providers who influence parental decisions, less attention has been given to educating advertisers, which can have just as much — perhaps more — influence on parents’ decisions.

A lot of attention is given by the media to cosleeping safety, though the fact that SIDS happens in crib-sleeping situations often goes under-reported. Crib-sleeping, on its own without any other other variables considered, is not protective against SIDS. Infant sleep safety must be considered as much for crib-sleeping as for cosleeping. It’s an important step forward to recognize this need in crib-sleeping education, too.

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