The Rock 'n Play is not safe for sleep, and you don't need it.
April 9th, 2019
Amanda Webb, Pediatric Sleep Consultant
Amanda is a former Teacher, Newborn Care Specialist and Daycare Provider turned Mom and Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She provides on-demand sleep help for families over the phone, video chat, and email through her consulting company, Sleepy Apple.
If you are a parent, or you are about to become a parent, you have heard of the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play.
Most likely, you’ve heard it touted is as a life-saving miracle sleep product, or “must have” baby gear item. The Rock n’ Play is one of the most commonly and enthusiastically recommended baby products on the market. It is also totally inappropriate (and downright dangerous) for your baby to sleep in.
Last week, on April 5th, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommended parents stop using all models of the Rock 'n Play when their baby reaches 3 months of age or shows signs of rolling over after 10 infant deaths were linked to the product since 2015.
Then on Tuesday, April 9th, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called on the CPSC to issue a complete recall of all models of the Rock 'n Play after the product was tied to 32 sleep-related infant deaths between 2011-2018. The AAP is recommending the Rock n’ Play be immediately removed from store shelves, and urges all parents to stop using the product immediately. Infants have suffocated as a result of the incline positioning of the Rock ‘n Play, and died after rolling in the product or becoming entangled in the padding or straps. It’s important to note that even when used properly for an infant under three months old, the Rock ‘n play is still linked to sleep-related infant deaths. This is the big change that prompted the AAP’s announcement today.
The main issue is that the Rock ‘n Play’s incline sleep position
causes an increased risk of baby’s head tilting forward (chin down) and obstructing the airway, leading to asphyxia (suffocation). Despite being advertised as a “sleeper,” the design of the Rock ‘n Play violates the American Academy of Pediatrics’ basic rules for safe sleep. The AAP states that, “infants should always sleep alone, on their backs, on a flat and firm surface without any bumpers, loose blankets or other bedding.” The Rock ‘n Play violates several of these guidelines, as it positions babies on an incline (not flat), has pillow-like padding, and has a sling-style seat that is not firm.
In fact, none of the motion-based baby positioners or containers on the market are safe for sleep for one or more of these same reasons. This includes all types of baby swings, strollers, car seats, bouncers, and virtually any other baby-holding device that includes a harness/safety belt. A simple rule is that if a device requires a safety belt, it’s not a safe place for sleep. Babies should be moved from these devices as soon as possible if they fall asleep, and should never be intentionally put to sleep in one of these devices to reduce the risk of death.
Several additional problems emerge with the use of baby containers with safety belts
(swings, sleepers, bouncers, etc) for newborns. It is definitely not safe to use these products without their safety restraints, as the risk of falls, suffocation, entanglement, strangulation and death are far too high. But the safety belts themselves also present a challenge for newborn sleep. In order to suppress their startle reflex (and sleep well), newborns need to be swaddled while sleeping. A 3-point (crotch) safety belt cannot be used properly with a baby in a swaddle, because the swaddle does not allow the third point of the harness to come up between the legs. If you’ve tried loosening the safety belt and using it as a two-point harness around the baby as a half measure, you know what I’m talking about. The presence of a safety belt and the urge to modify it are sure signs that your infant should not be in that product for sleep.
The very reason the Rock ‘n Play appears to work as a miracle sleeper is the reason it is dangerous. Sleeping in the Rock ‘n Play on an incline and with wraparound padded sides suppresses movement in the infant, leading to increased ability to self-soothe and longer periods of unbroken sleep compared to an infant sleeping unswaddled on a flat surface. But you can achieve that same movement suppression and unbroken sleep in a much safer way with a simple swaddle in a crib and some independent sleep skills. It’s impossible to safely clip-in a swaddled baby, and there is an added risk of suffocation from baby’s head tilting forward in the Rock ‘n Play. Overall, the Rock ‘n Play is absolutely not a safe place for infants, awake or asleep.
What about older babies who don’t need to be swaddled? It’s true that babies older than 8-12 weeks actually need to begin sleeping unswaddled to learn how to position their bodies for comfortable sleep, self-soothe, and overcome their startle reflex. But even when used properly with the 3-point safety strap on the Rock ‘n Play, the incline of the product will still cause the head to tilt forward (chin to chest) and obstruct the airway. The Rock ‘n Play is still a suffocation risk for an older baby, and there is the added risk of baby rolling to the side and becoming entangled, strangled, or asphyxiated in the padding.
I want you to know that the Rock ‘n Play is unsafe, but it’s also unnecessary. You don’t need it. Your baby will sleep best in a crib. Sleep positioners (like the Rock ‘n Play, Dock-A-Tot, Baby Merlin Magic Sleep Suit, or swing) suppress natural body movements that are required for the development of independent sleep. All of these products carry a risk of setting your child up for future sleep issues, such as a lack of self-soothing skills, dependency on positioning or movement of the product, or torticollis and plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) from restricting movement during sleep. In effect, they are sleep props that the babies cannot control or provide for themselves, and they will prevent your child from being able to sleep independently.
If you are struggling to get your child to sleep in a crib independently, please reach out for help. Sleep deprivation (yours or baby’s!) is always an emergency. Sleepy Apple is happy to help you gently transition to safe, age-appropriate crib sleep.
- To determine if your child is getting enough sleep, visit the homepage and sign up for Sleepy Apple News and get the free Sleep Guidelines for Children.
- For more on sleep products to avoid, see 6 "Must Have" Baby items to totally skip.
- If you’d like additional help with all-night sleep, contact Amanda.