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Back in August 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform opened an investigation into Fisher-Price and its marketing of the Rock ’n Play inclined sleepers. The sleepers have been linked to at least 50 infant deaths and were recalled in 2019 under pressure from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other consumer advocacy groups.

According to the committee’s findings, Fisher-Price failed to ensure the Rock ’n Play was safe before bringing it to market, and “ignored critical warnings from pediatricians, parents, and foreign regulators that the product was dangerous…”

Inclined Sleepers Have Long Been Known to Be Dangerous

In April 2019, Fisher-Price recalled about 4.7 million Rock ’n Play sleepers amid reports of infant deaths. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the products were manufactured in China and imported by Fisher-Price of East Aurora, New York. They were sold at major retailers for about $40-149.

At that time, the company was aware of over 30 infant fatalities that occurred in the sleepers after the infants rolled over while unrestrained or under other circumstances. According to an investigation by Consumer Reports, when infants rollover in the sleepers, they lack the muscle strength to right themselves and can suffocate while in that position.

Medical experts have long recommended that babies be placed flat on their backs alone and free of soft bedding—and not at an incline—when resting and sleeping to minimize the risk of accidental suffocation. The AAP recommends that babies should sleep by themselves, without any bumpers, pillows, or stuffed toys, as these can increase the risk that the baby may suffocate.

The CPSC states that sleep products that incline more than 10 degrees are not safe, yet the Fisher-Price inclined sleepers allowed babies to sleep at a 30-degree angle. Infants placed in products like these can fall asleep in a chin-to-chest position, which can restrict their airways. They can also roll over to where they can’t breathe, or even roll out of the sleepers and become trapped underneath them.

Fisher-Price Was Aware of the Dangers and Ignored Them

The Committee on Oversight and Reform obtained thousands of documents from five manufacturers of infant inclined sleep products. The members conducted interviews with current and former Fisher-Price employees and officials at the CPSC.

According to the committee’s findings, Fisher-Price failed to ensure the Rock ’n Play was safe before bringing it to market, ignored warnings about its safety, and continued to market it for overnight sleep despite clear evidence of the risks.

From the report: “Fisher-Price’s poor safety practices and lack of meaningful oversight allowed the Rock ’n Play to stay on the U.S. market for a total of 10 years, during which time more than fifty infants died using the product—while the company raked in at least $200 million in revenue.”

The investigation also revealed:

  • Fisher-Price released the Rock ’n Play on the market in 2009 without research backing its assertion that sleeping at an incline was safe. Instead, current research at the time showed the opposite.
  • In three separate instances between August 2008 and February 2009, the company’s internal safety committee warned about the need for research on the positioning of infants in the sleeper, finding the product was unacceptable without such research.
  • Before launching the product, the company consulted only one doctor about the safety of the sleeper. This individual was later accused of practicing medicine without a license and using unsafe practices.
  • The company tested only 62 infants using the product before launching it. No doctors were involved in analyzing the results.
  • Fisher-Price became aware of serious concerns about the sleeper soon after its launch, including from regulatory bodies in Australia and Canada, pediatricians in the U.S., and from consumers. They ignored these issues.

The committee also found that the CPSC does not have adequate regulatory or enforcement powers to protect the public from dangerous products like this one. The committee strongly recommended reforms to empower the CPSC to take more decisive action to prevent future product-related tragedies such as the infant deaths related to the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play sleeper.

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