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5 Dangerous Baby Products Parents Should Avoid

Jul 04, 2023Jul 04, 2023

CR’s safety experts reviewed scores of incident reports and parent reviews

Most people assume that if something is for sale in the U.S., it must be safe to use. Especially baby gear, when the stakes are so high, right?

The reality is that while many kinds of baby products do have to undergo safety testing before hitting the market, a lot can still slip through the cracks. For instance, new types of products might not yet have mandatory safety standards, and so they hit store shelves before any independent testing has taken place. Or sometimes, even when regulators and safety advocates think a product on the market poses a risk, the manufacturer doesn’t agree to a recall.

So it’s often up to consumers to research product safety themselves, by reading reviews or looking things up on the public database of incidents reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency that oversees thousands of household products. Consumer Reports is also here to help however we can. Here are five products that CR’s safety experts say parents and caregivers should skip when they’re getting geared up for a new baby.

Infant Loungers • Cosco Jump, Spin & Play Activity Centers • Otteroo ‘Neck Floats’ • Weighted Baby Blankets • Water Beads

When you’re taking care of a baby 24/7, you’ll need a few safe, comfortable places to put the baby down every once in a while to give your arms a break. But when it comes time for the baby to nap or sleep overnight, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that they always need to be on a firm, flat surface, with nothing soft around them. That’s why “infant loungers” are dangerous. Many of them have pillowy sides that look like good protection but can actually pose a risk of suffocation.

Source: Cutelions, DockATot, Amazon Source: Cutelions, DockATot, Amazon

In 2021, the CPSC passed a new rule that effectively banned from the marketplace several types of unsafe sleep products for babies, including inclined sleepers (like the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play) and in-bed sleepers (like the Dock a Tot and the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest). But some of these companies are still selling their products, choosing to market them as “loungers” instead. And while they aren’t supposed to use language promoting sleep, parents may understandably believe because of their appearance that they are okay for a nap.

When asked for comment, Dock a Tot said that while the company disagrees with the CPSC’s approach to lounger-type products like the Deluxe+ it has, in good faith, stopped selling any Deluxe+ loungers manufactured after the CPSC’s infant sleep rule went into effect in June 2022.

Jason Macari, CEO of Baby Delight, also told CR that the company has stopped manufacturing the Snuggle Nest lounger, although the company still maintains its safety, and it remains for sale until the company runs out of stock.

The CPSC has flagged safety issues with other loungers before: In 2021, the agency announced the recall of the Boppy infant lounger after it was tied to eight deaths; and in 2023, it urged consumers to stop buying used versions of the product. And earlier this month, the CPSC put out a public statement telling consumers to immediately stop using the La-La-Me infant loungers, saying that the loungers violated the agency’s infant sleep rule and posed risks for babies of both suffocation and falls. The manufacturer had not agreed to a recall, the agency said in the release, but anyone who owned one of these loungers should destroy and dispose of it. La-La-Me could not be reached for comment. Boppy did not respond to a request for comment and La-La-Me could not be reached.

CR safety experts recommend that parents and caregivers would be better off putting their babies down to play in products that carry mandatory safety rules, like bouncers, and ensuring that they nap in only approved products for sleep such as a play yard, crib, or bassinet.

Consumer Reports safety advocates called for a recall of this play center sold at Walmart, made by the manufacturer Cosco, after seeing dozens of angry reviews online, and several incident reports to the CPSC, from parents saying their babies had fallen out of them. Many of them described their babies suddenly falling to the floor when support straps that had been holding the seat either tore or came unhooked without warning. Parents described their children dangling sideways from their seats, or in some cases hitting the floor. Fortunately, none of the injuries sounded life-threatening.

Source: Cosco Kids Source: Cosco Kids

“I wish I saw the reviews before purchasing this,” wrote Madi from Beaumont, Texas, in a review of the product on the Cosco Kids website. “We didn’t even have the product for one hour before the reviews became true. My son was jumping in the bouncer . . . all of a sudden the strap came out and he dropped to the floor.”

Rick Leckner, a media representative for Dorel Juvenile, the manufacturer’s parent company, told CR that the company has been in touch with the CPSC about the product and that it “takes all matters concerning safety very seriously.”

Otteroo baby neck floats are inflatable rings that fit around a baby’s neck to hold them afloat in the bathtub or pool, and the company markets them for use on babies as young as two weeks old. The CPSC pointed to dozens of incidents that the agency had received of babies having to be rescued by caregivers after their head had suddenly slipped through the floats into the water below. Several babies have been sent to the hospital, and one baby drowned and died, according to incident reports in the CPSC’s public database.

Source: Otteroo Source: Otteroo

In the past year, both the Food and Drug Administration and the CPSC put out public warnings about baby neck floats generally, with the CPSC calling out this product specifically. But Otteroo has so far refused to cooperate on a voluntary recall, and is still selling them online. The company maintains that they are safe as long as parents stay within an arm’s reach of their babies, as the instructions say they always should.

“You cannot rely on warnings,” says Oriene Shin, policy counsel for CR. “Warnings don’t absolve a company of the requirement to create a safe product. These products are not safe, cannot be made safe with warnings, and should not exist. Especially for newborns.”

Weighted blankets are a popular trend for adults, but medical experts say that weighted baby blankets, swaddles, and sleep sacks should never be used on a baby. Even “gentle pressure” on a baby’s chest or body can potentially inhibit breathing and make it difficult to get out of unsafe sleeping positions they find themselves in, pediatricians told CR.

Source: Dreamland, Nested Bean Source: Dreamland, Nested Bean

There are two main manufacturers of weighted sleep products for babies—Nested Bean and Dreamland Baby—and both told CR that a lack of reported injuries related to their increasingly popular products shows that they are safe. But the CPSC has said that there is at least one infant death that has been linked to a weighted product, and the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a recent letter to regulators that they shouldn’t wait until tragedy strikes again to act against this dangerous category of product.

“Waiting for the emergence of confirmatory data about these concerns while these products proliferate is an unacceptable outcome when each of those data points will be a family whose lives are forever marked by unfathomable tragedy of their infant dying from a sleep-related death,” the letter read.

Orbeez is probably the most recognizable brand of “water beads,” but it’s a big market with a lot of companies selling expandable gel balls for “sensory play.” Kids just add water to the little tiny seeds and watch them grow to many times their original size. But the problem with that super-expansion is that if the beads accidentally end up inside a human (or an animal) body, they can expand and cause life-threatening injury, like bowel obstruction or, if inhaled, lung damage.

Photo: Adobe Stock Photo: Adobe Stock

The warning labels that are common to many water bead packages (like “non-toxic” or “choking hazard”) fail to warn parents about the gravity of the risk they pose if ingested or inhaled—especially to small babies, who explore the world around them by putting things in their mouths.

“The risks can’t be ignored,” says Michael Alfonzo, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine. “If you have a child under the age of 3, I wouldn’t have them in my home.”

Orbeez’s parent company, Spin Master, told CR that they rigorously test their products for safety, but that there are “many copycat products on the market that do not consistently meet safety requirements, particularly as it relates to size.” When asked about the safety of water beads as a category, the Toy Association, an industry group, said that the toy versions of water beads are all required to be tested for safety and labeled as not appropriate for children under 3, but that parents and caregivers should always take precautions with them.

Lauren Kirchner

Lauren Kirchner is an investigative reporter on the special projects team at Consumer Reports. She has been with CR since 2022, covering product safety. She has previously reported on algorithmic bias, criminal justice, and housing for the Markup and ProPublica, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2017. Send her tips at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @lkirchner.