Federal agency proposes major redesign of infant loungers

This article is part of “Death by Delay,” a series on how consumer product hazards have cost lives.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday advanced a proposal for the first federal safety requirements for infant loungers, citing dozens of deaths linked to the popular products.

In a 4-0 vote, the CPSC moved to adopt recommendations put forward by agency staff earlier this month to mandate a significant redesign of most baby loungers and other infant support cushions currently on the market.

Images of different types of infant support cushions. (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
Images of different types of infant support cushions. (Consumer Product Safety Commission)

The CPSC has linked loungers and other infant support cushions to at least 79 deaths between 2010 and 2022. Most of the babies who died had been placed to sleep on the popular products.

“There is a vital need for safety standards here,” CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said shortly after the vote.

Lounger manufacturers have defended their products as safe when used as intended: as a spot for caregivers to put their babies down while awake and supervised. The Boppy Company, whose loungers were recalled in September 2021, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did two other major manufacturers, Snuggle Me Organic and DockATot.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association said in a statement that loungers "serve the important purpose of providing a safe place for caregivers to place their infants during awake time."

"We strongly encourage all parents and caregivers to use the product as intended and to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions," the statement said.

If adopted, the new federal safety requirements would also apply to other infant support products, including crib pillows, head positioners and cushions designed for “tummy time,” which help babies build muscles. The proposed rule will be open for public comment before it is finalized.

Wednesday’s vote comes after an NBC News investigation earlier this year found that at least 25 deaths had been linked to baby loungers since 2015, according to federal databases, autopsy reports, lawsuits and other records. The investigation prompted two lawmakers to urge the CPSC to eliminate pillow-like loungers.

The CPSC’s count of 79 deaths covers a longer time frame and includes a broader range of infant support cushions than NBC News’ investigation did.

In an interview after Wednesday’s vote, CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. said lounger manufacturers “have to make a product that’s safe as it will be foreseeably used, and that’s not what’s happening here.”

“You can’t rule out people using them for sleep — even people who know they might not be safe for sleep — because we’re in that sleep-deprived state of mind when we make these decisions,” he added. “So they need to be designed safely and right now, we don’t think they are.”

Under the agency’s proposal, loungers and other infant support cushions must be as firm as a crib mattress, and the height of their walls is effectively limited to less than 2 inches. The changes aim to reduce the risk that babies will suffocate or become stuck in a position that compromises their breathing. The redesign is also intended to make the cushions a less inviting place for caregivers to put babies down to sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies sleep alone on their backs on a firm, flat surface with no loose blankets or other soft items. The CPSC’s new lounger rule will require cushions to have more prominent warning labels that caution against using the products for sleep or while babies are unattended.

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who previously called for loungers to be "eliminated," praised the CPSC’s action on Wednesday and added that more needs to be done to ensure unsafe products are removed quickly from stores and online marketplaces.

“Parents deserve to know that the products they purchase for their homes and their children are not dangerous,” she said in a statement.

In the last several months, the CPSC has advanced federal safety recommendations for rockers and nursing pillows, two other infant products associated with deaths.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com