Earlier this summer, Adam Garber and his wife realized there were Fischer Price Rock ’n Plays still being used in his son’s day care in Philadelphia.
Those inclined sleepers were voluntary recalled in April, after a Consumer Reports analysis linked them to more than 30 infant deaths. Since then, other manufacturers have recalled similar models, as recently as within the last several weeks.
For years, inclined sleepers have been wildly popular with many parents who rave about their baby-soothing abilities, particularly for little ones that struggle with reflux. Millions were sold. And now, millions have been recalled after babies died in them. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics say they potentially put babies’ lives at risk in multiple ways: The sleepers can cause babies’ heads to fall forward, compressing their airways and increasing their risk for strangulation.
All of this has been big news in the parenting and consumer safety worlds. So Garber — who works as a consumer watchdog for the advocacy group US PIRG — was shocked to learn his son’s day care was still using them.
“I chatted with the head teacher, and she was really confused. She thought there had been a warning issued only saying that you had to use them properly ... and that was true initially — there was a warning — but then there was a full recall,” Garber told HuffPost. When the head teacher learned about the recall, the day care immediately got rid of the products, but it got Garber “thinking about whether this was a larger problem.”
From June 20 to July 10, a team from US PIRG and the nonprofit Kids In Danger (KID), called and emailed more than 600 licensed day care facilities around the country — from small, in-home day cares to outposts of large, national chains — to ask if they were still using the recalled sleepers.
Of the 376 that responded, 1 in 10 said yes.
Garber told HuffPost that most day care staff expressed surprise that the sleepers had been recalled, because they simply had not heard about it.
“These day cares want to keep kids safe. My son’s teachers love him,” said Garber. “It’s not that they’re intentionally keeping dangerous products.”
To Garber, the findings highlight significant gaps in our current recall system. He believes more could be done to aggressively tell consumers about product recalls, as not every care provider necessarily thinks to sign up for for email alerts from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or may not necessarily hear news coverage of a recall. For now, Garber said, those are the primary avenues of communicating pertinent information.
He also argues that companies need to do more to improve how recalls are processed, so consumers take the time to participate.
“How easy it is to return the product, and what are you going to get for it?” Garber asked. “A lot of these [products] have a really long life, because they get resold and resold or handed down. It’s really important not only that people stop using them, but that they return them to make sure they don’t end up elsewhere in the market place.”
With the Rock ’n Play, for example, consumers have been urged to contact Fischer Price for a prepaid shipping label and information on how to take their sleeper apart. Those purchased after October 2018 will be eligible for a full refund if a receipt is available; if not, the company will determine the refund amount. Those purchased before 2018 can be replaced by a product from a list provided by Fischer Price.
The findings also show that even if parents no longer use these products in their own homes, they should be asking their child’s care providers if they use any of them, Garber said. He urges parents to take the potential risk seriously.
“Small children can easily suffocate when they turn to the side, they turn over, or their head falls over,” Garber said. “This isn’t about proper use of the products; these are faulty products that put kids at risk.”