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Is It Safe to Use a Newborn Positioner?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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The vast majority of medical professionals and consumer safety agencies recommend against the use of newborn positioners. Often marketed as decreasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as of 2011, there is no research indicating that this is true. These items, which aim to keep an infant on his or her back or side while sleeping, can potentially result in suffocation. Newborn positioners are often touted as being helpful for infants suffering from reflux, although adjusting the crib mattress can provide the same results without the risk of using one of these items.

A newborn positioner comes in two different forms: one that provides support on either side of the infant to keep him or her lying on the back, or a wedge that helps to elevate the child’s head above his or her feet. The positioners are placed inside a crib, and the child is centered on the item. The rolls located on either side are meant to keep an infant in one spot while sleeping, preventing him or her from rolling onto his or her side or stomach.

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The current recommendation for infants to be placed on their backs to sleep in order to reduce the instances of SIDS prompted manufacturers to make these items and, as they are meant to keep a child on his or her back, market them as preventing this tragedy. Despite this theory, many pediatricians believe that once a child is capable of rolling over while sleeping, the risk of him or her sleeping on his or her stomach passes. As of 2011, no company that sells newborn positioners has been able to provide any verifiable research indicating that its claims are true.

In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission have labeled newborn sleep positioners as unsafe for use. Both agencies cite an increased risk of suffocation should a child roll over in his or her sleep and become stuck, suffocating on the positioner. As there is no research indicating that SIDS is decreased with the use of a newborn positioner and the fact that there is an increased risk of suffocation, several major retailers all over the world have since stopped selling the item.

For children who suffer from reflux, which is common in the first six months of an infant’s life, a wedge newborn positioner is often recommended to elevate a child’s head while he or she is sleeping. This can help to reduce the discomfort often associated with reflux. While this is considered a valid concern for many parents and caregivers, many pediatricians believe that the risk of using a newborn positioner outweighs the small benefit of elevating the child’s head.

If reflux is an issue, it is often recommended to adjust the mattress in the crib rather than use a positioner. For crib mattress that can be adjusted up or down, only one end of the mattress can be adjusted to a lower position, providing the same benefits of using a newborn positioner without the risks. In cribs that are not adjustable, a rolled towel can be placed under the mattress on one end to help elevate the child’s head so that he or she can sleep more comfortably. When adjusting a crib mattress, it is important to make sure that the mattress does not crease or bend in the center, as this can also pose a suffocation risk. Prior to making any changes to a child’s crib or using a newborn positioner, parents and caregivers should discuss all options with a trusted and experienced pediatrician.

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