Bamboozled October 20, 2016: Action in N.J. to ban ‘a clear and present danger’ to babies

Parents want the best for their babies. They try to make sure they’re comfortable. And make sure they’re safe.

Critics say those two goals collide when it comes to adding extra padding — what are called “supplemental mattresses” — to play pens, port-a-cribs, play yards and similar sleep spaces.

Last year, Bamboozled profiled the fight of one mom whose four-and-a-half month old son suffocated while sleeping in a soft-sided play yard.

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Garret Davis died at four-and-a-half months old. His mother, Joyce Davis, says a supplemental mattress is to blame. 

Joyce Davis’ son Garret’s play yard had in it a supplemental mattress that was advertised as a good fit for the play yard. It was thicker than the mattress that came with the yard.

“Garret suffocated because of the supplemental mattress,” Davis told Bamboozled last year. “There were no warning labels advising us against using these products together.”

The problem, she said, is that supplemental mattresses aren’t always the right fit. Even ones that advertise they are suitable to go with suitable sleeping spaces can leave a gap between the mattress and the side of the play yard, Davis said.

That leaves enough of a space for a baby to suffocate, Davis and other advocates say.

There are warning labels now, but, Davis said, it’s not enough because the mattresses are still readily available, and they’re often marketed as a suitable addition to play yards.

Now legislators in New Jersey are considering a measure to ban the mattresses, thanks in large part to Davis’ non-profit advocacy group Keeping Babies Safe (KBS).

Davis said the bill will do what KBS has been advocating for all along: to prohibit the sale of supplemental mattresses in New Jersey.

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Joyce Davis uses a doll to demonstrate how she says a baby’s face can become wedged between a supplemental mattress and a soft-sided play yard. 

Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who introduced the bill in the Senate, called the mattresses “a clear and present danger to infants.”

She said cited a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which said the products have caused at least 15 deaths over the past 16 years. Still, Ruiz said, federal officials have failed to ban their sale.

CPSC is considering a ban, but the issue isn’t expected on its agenda until 2017.

“These are tragedies that can and should be prevented. The warning labels are not enough, especially when the mattress manufacturers and retailers promote their sale to unsuspecting parents,” Ruiz said. “A host of consumer safety and public health organizations have called for stronger action and I agree with them. We need to act to put an end to this risk with a complete ban on their sale in New Jersey.”

The other groups Ruiz cites as supporters include the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Kids In Danger, National Center for Health Research, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

IS A BAN THE ANSWER?

Not everyone agrees that supplemental mattresses are dangerous.

South Plainfield baby product manufacturer Dream on Me said the data cited by critics is circumstantial, and the statistics cited by KBS and legislators are inaccurate.

Instead, it argues the data isn’t specific to supplemental mattress causing the deaths.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a non-profit industry group representing baby and child product manufacturers, agreed with Dream On Me’s comments in its letter to the CPSC.

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A warning label on a soft-sided play yard.

Banning the mattresses isn’t the answer, said Dream On Me vice president of sales Robert Omansky. Instead, he said the company believes that a ban would increase the likelihood of accidental deaths as parents turn to makeshift items that are unsafe for babies, such as pillows and sofa cushions, to make the hard surfaces of play yards more comfortable.

Rather than a ban, manufacturers suggest, part of the answer may be to address the hard mattresses that come with play yards. If they’re more comfortable, parents won’t use the makeshift items that can be dangerous to babies, they say.

“One will hope that that local legislators will defer to  the dedicated and qualified experts of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to rule on this petition before pre-emptively passing legislation that could have  unintended tragic consequences,” Omansky said.

OTHER EFFORTS

Back when Bamboozled first profiled the issue, Keeping Babies Safe was fighting to get the mattresses off store shelves.

We investigated and found supplemental mattresses were widely available from retailers that specialize in baby gear.

After we inquired about the safety of the mattresses, Toys”R”Us/Babies”R”Us and Sears/Kmart decided to drop the products. Buy Buy Baby had already made the move.

Amazon, Target and Walmart still sell the mattresses.

The retailers have said they’re waiting for the CPSC decision.

Davis said KBS will continue to ask these and other businesses to stop selling the mattresses now rather than wait for the CPSC decision.

“It is our hope that they will recognize that they are selling a dangerous product that has proven fatal and will follow many other companies who no longer sell this terrible product,” Davis said.

In the meantime, KBS has had other wins.

KBS lobbied for another New Jersey bill, A1355/S2963, which was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in December. The legislation requires the Department of Health to provide information about crib safety on its website.

The group was also instrumental in the passage of a new law in New York that requires hospitals and birthing centers to provide parents with clear information, written in several languages, on safe sleep strategies.

Its efforts go beyond legislation.

In August, KBS sent cribs to flood-ravaged Louisiana.

Locally, last month, the group received a $51,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. KBS bought 300 cribs with the grant, 80 of which will be distributed by Newark Beth Israel and the rest will go toward financially-challenged Newark families.

And last year, KBS received $17,500 from The Turrell Fund to buy 115 cribs for infants in Essex, Passaic, Union and Hudson counties.

So how can you help?

Contact your legislators and tell them your thoughts on the bills.

And you can support KBS in person at its annual Keeping Babies Safe 5K Walk/Run at Harry Dunham Park in Basking Ridge on Oct. 30.

We’ll keep you posted on the legislation.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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