Rocking Cradles a Suffocation Hazard

Cradles suspended from a motorized mechanism that rocks a baby to sleep may increase the risk of infant suffocation – even if the suspended cradle is not in motion, a new study suggests.

Between 1990 and 1992 at least 15 infants stopped breathing while in such cradles, and 10 died in the cribs, according to a report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. In 14 out of the 15 cases, parents did not use a locking pin that keeps the crib level while at rest.

“The particular rocking cradles implicated in these deaths have been withdrawn from the market in the United States, but are frequently passed on from one baby to the next, bought secondhand, and are extant in many households,” reported Drs. Jeanne Ackerman and Enid Gilbert-Barness, of the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital in Tampa.

“Suspended rocking cradles are potentially lethal sleeping environments and should not be used without a locking mechanism in place,” they concluded.

The infants were three months of age or younger, sleeping in a face-down position, and were found with the cradle tilted at a 5 degree or greater angle. Parents discovered that the infants had stopped breathing anywhere from two minutes to six hours after being put in the cradle, which rocked the infants from head-to-toe, rather than side-to-side. In five cases the infants were successfully resuscitated.

The researchers believe that the rocking motion in combination with the tilted crib, can shift an infant's head into a corner, making it difficult for the infant to breathe.

“If their heads are against gravity and wedged in the corner of a tilted cradle, it is more difficult to move or turn their heads,” according to the report. Putting an infant to sleep in the face-down position is a hazard now recognized by pediatric experts around the world, because the infant tends to re-breathe exhaled air trapped in bedding.

A massive education campaign to put infants to sleep on their backs, which was launched in the early 1990s in the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and other countries, is thought to be the reason why deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are declining.

Infants in the face-down position are at even greater risk if the bedding is wet, according to the report, which found that most babies were placed in the rocking cradle immediately after feeding. If the infant regurgitates milk, the wet bedding obstructs air flow even more than dry pillows or blankets.

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (1997;151:573-575)

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