Garret was in a soft-sided play yard — also called a porta-crib or playpen. In the play yard was a mattress. Not the mattress that came with the play yard, but a thicker one Davis said she bought because it was advertised as suitable for the play yard.
“Garret suffocated because of the supplemental mattress,” Davis said. “There were no warning labels advising us against using these products together.”
So Davis founded Keeping Babies Safe, a non-profit advocacy group, and the warnings have changed.
Today, mandatory hazard labels are printed on all play yards, warning users of the risks and instructing them to use only the mattress pad that comes with the product.
Despite these warnings, Davis said, retailers and manufacturers continue to offer the same kinds of mattresses that the warnings say people shouldn’t use.
She wants the mattresses banned.
While parents have a responsibility to carefully read warning labels, they can be confused when companies market products that conflict with what’s recommended for safety.
On Amazon.com, 23 of the 28 offerings are from a South Plainfield company called Dream On Me. On Babies R Us’ web site, 17 of the 18 supplemental mattresses are from Dream On Me, and on Walmart.com, 26 out of 32 are by Dream On Me.
Dream On Me disputed many of Keeping Babies Safe’s comments about supplemental mattresses, saying the company follows all guidelines and that its products are safe.
When took a look on Amazon, we found several supplemental mattress offerings, including a product called “Dream On Me Foam Graco Pack and Play Mattress.”
There were far more positive product reviews than negative ones. Consumers said the supplemental mattress was more comfortable than the one that comes with the play yard.
But some parents posted reviews that questioned safety.
A reviewer called momma878 wrote: “…it fit lengthwise but was too short width-wise. I just rolled up a towel and shoved it in the gap and my son was fine. However, I just tried that with my 7 month old daughter a week ago and I woke up at 2 am with her wedged into the gap and the sheet pulled off that part of the mattress.”
House Chores wrote: “It leaves a 3-4 inch gap on the shorter side of the crib. I can’t use this for fear of suffocation from a baby rolling or shifting in their sleep.”
And Zoucrew wrote: “…It was fairly easy to push the loose mesh fabric of the Pack n Play away and create a trap on the sides of the mattress. I suppose this is why Grayco [sic] never officially said mattresses should be used for the Pack n Play and also why they probably don’t even bother testing them….There is an entrapment risk using an after-market mattress with something not designed specifically and also tested for that same device. Sure, the mattress itself may pass tests, but that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is how the mattress performs inside the Pack n Play, and there are no guarantees since Grayco [sic] wants nothing to do with it.”
That poster was correct about Graco’s position on the mattresses.
Elliot F. Kaye, chairman of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said in a statement that parents should use only the mattress sold with cribs, play yards and bassinets, or ones recommended by the manufacturer.
He said he and his staff have spoken with Keeping Babies Safe about its concerns.
Indeed, Keeping Babies Safe sent a petition to the CPSC, asking for a review of these mattresses.
The group said in its petition, based on CPSC incident data, it identified 15 incidents that occurred in domestic settings and six incidents that occurred in child care settings between 2000 and 2013 involving supplemental mattresses.
“All of these incidents involve a child being wedged between gaps created when a supplemental mattress was added to a play yard or portable crib,” Keeping Babies Safe said.
CPSC said because it is reviewing the petition, it couldn’t comment further about the review or the deaths reported by Keeping Babies Safe.
Shortly after Bamboozled started looking at this issue, Keeping Babies Safe learned that Buy Buy Baby decided to no longer offer supplemental mattresses and pads.
Keeping Babies Safe still hadn’t received a response from Toys R Us/Babies R Us, so we reached out.
“We require that every product we carry meets or exceeds all applicable state and federal laws, industry standards, codes and requirements,” spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said. “… We are closely monitoring ongoing discussions and emerging information on the issue of supplemental mattress use and do not carry these mattresses in our stores.”
The same day Toys R Us told Bamboozled it didn’t sell supplemental mattresses in its stores, Joyce Davis of Keeping Babies safe took this shot of a supplemental pad for sale at the Raritan Babies R Us.
Courtesy Joyce Davis
But it does carry such products online and in at least one of its stores. We shared the comments with Davis, and she went to Babies R Us in Raritan on July 13 and came back with a photo of a supplemental porta-crib pad.***
Toys R Us said the product Davis saw is categorized as “pad,” not a “mattress,” and it referred us back to its original statement.
Davis said that while Toys R Us states that every product it sells meets industry standards, the mandatory warning labels say consumers should not add a mattress or pad to the play yard and should only use what’s provided with the play yard.
“This pad sold at Toys R Us violates the intent of the play yard,” she said.
We next went to Amazon.com, which sells many Dream On Me supplemental mattresses and pads.
No one from Amazon responded to our multiple requests for comment.
Then we tried Dream On Me. The company has 16 complaints against it with the Better Business Bureau, and an “F” rating, the website said, because several complaints went unanswered. No complaints have been filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
After several voice mails, emails and a contact attempt on LinkedIn, we received a long email from Robert Omansky, a vice president of sales for the company.
Omansky said the company products meet all safety guidelines.
“To date, we have not had a single safety or hazard incident reported on any of porta-crib or play yard mattresses,” he said.
But, he said, the company is considering a change.
“One suggestion our team is considering, as a result of Keeping Babies Safe initiative is to add an additional precautionary warning label sewn into our mattress stating ‘Gaps between the sides of the sleeping area and the edge of the mattress could cause potential Suffocation and Death. Make sure your mattress Fits Snugly,'” he said.
We then asked why the company markets products with the Graco name if Graco and the CPSC say consumers should only use the mattress or pad that comes with a play yard. Omansky said it makes sense from a liability standpoint for a company to distance itself from third-party products.
He said Dream On Me products give consumers an alternative, and are “designed with specific dimensions to work (with) specific companies’ play yards as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. This insures a more exact fit and in our opinion a safer design.”
We then asked why it hasn’t responded to Keeping Babies Safe’s letters.
Omansky said the letter would have gone to the vice president of sales, a position that’s new to Omansky. He said the letter was never passed on to him.
He also said he would reach out to Keeping Babies Safe in the next few days.
In response, Joyce Davis said an additional warning label is not sufficient.
“Consumers aren’t reading this warning label because companies are marketing a purported comfortable mattress right next to the play yard that shouldn’t be used it,” Davis said. “We don’t need more written warnings. Consumers need a total ban on supplemental mattresses.”
We’ll let you know what happens.
*** The original version of this story wrongly said the supplemental pad sold in Raritan’s Babies R Us was manufactured by Dream On Me. It was a supplemental pad, but it wasn’t a Dream On Me product.
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.