Rock n' Play recall and the myth of 'sleeping through the night:' What parents should know

Amy Haneline
Fisher-Price Rock n' Plays were recalled after being linked to infant deaths. They were advertised for sleeping, which is unsafe.

When parents or soon-to-be parents walk into a store, they might assume all the products they see are safe for their babies. 

While many of them are, they often come with warnings and instructions. They may not be vetted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or the American Academy of Pediatrics may not recommend them.

And moms and dads are too tired and overwhelmed to know everything

In the past two months, 4.7 million Fisher-Price Rock n' Play sleepers were recalled followed by a recall of 700,000 inclined baby sleepers under other brands like Ingenuity and Bright Starts.

Several parents filed lawsuits and many claimed refunds. Some sought "safe" alternatives, while other parents said that they still planned to use their Rock n' Plays.

"It is a struggle. We know parenting is incredibly difficult and the desire and the need for good sleep is so real," pediatrician and AAP spokesperson Dr. Elizabeth Murray said, but "we know that some of these devices that make these great claims perhaps are not safe."

Murray, of Rochester, New York, answered everything parents need to know about these "must-have" devices and safe sleep practices. 

Newborns shouldn't "sleep through the night"

First things first: Parents need to understand how babies sleep.

"We all have these hopes that our infants are going to sleep long periods of time right from the get-go, but that is not how babies are programmed to work. So waking up every two hours is a normal newborn thing that we shouldn't be trying to overcome," Murray said.

She adds that newborn babies eat every 2 to 3 hours. And while there are ways we can get babies to sleep six hours or "through the night," it's not a realistic expectation.

Murray backs the AAP's ABC's for safe sleep — alone, on their back and in a crib. And newborn babies should be in a crib or a bassinet with no pillows or blankets, in a parent's room.

Three month old baby asleep in his cot beside a bed.

But Murray also has advice for many of those products out there that parents rave about.

While the AAP does not endorse any products, there are some important things parents should know before purchasing them.

Swings aren't meant for long-term sleeping

Swings like the Rock n' Play can be dangerous for sleeping babies, especially if the adult is sleeping too.

"If a parent is going to be awake..  we call that 'attended sleep,' meaning there is an awake adult is in the baby's environment. Then, they can sleep in these things."

But parents should use swings in moderation and follow the swing's instructions. Parents should also move sleeping babies to a flat surface, the AAP recommends. Same goes for when babies fall asleep in car seats, strollers, slings or other products in which babies are not flat.

Murray warns that when babies are propped up or in these kinds of devices and they are sleeping, they can "slouch down" and "that's when their airway can become compromised."

A baby just born at the hospital rests in a hospital bassinet crib, wrapped in a swaddle and wearing a beanie hat.

Wearable blankets are great, but keep arms loose

Babies love to be warm and swaddled, so wearable blankets "in general, are great," said Murray. They provide the warmth a child needs and replace a loose blanket.

Rochester's Safe Sleep Coalition ensures that all newborn babies born at area hospitals receive a sleep sack to take home.

It is critical, though, that babies' arms are freed from wearable blanets once a baby starts to move more or starts to roll over, Murray said. 

Monitoring devices can cause unnecessary worry

The APP does not encourage the use of Owlet smart socks or other wearable monitoring devices that are advertised to track a baby's heart rate and oxygen levels. 

"The monitoring is not perfect," said Murray, so the devices may add additional, unneeded stress to a parent. She also notes that it is normal for babies make all sorts of strange noises and do different things with their breathing when they sleep. If you are concerned, it's always best to check with your pediatrician.

A crib or bassinet is all your baby needs

Lots of babies have slept well without these fancy devices for a long time, Murray said. 

"A simple, flat bassinet or crib with no blankets, no pillows, no toys — that's what your baby needs."

She also warns against crib bumpers or other baby sleepers that have soft sides or surroundings because a baby's mouth or nose could get pressed against them, posing a suffocation risk. 

Stock photo of a basic baby crib. This is not one of the beds offered by the Safe Sleep Project.

What exhausted parents can do

Murray says that a person who is sleep-deprived is going to function on a similar level as someone who is intoxicated. Even in the fog, parents should never stray from safe sleep practices. 

She has some advice:

  • Try to get rest when you can, and if possible, have one parent sleeping when the baby is sleeping. "The laundry can wait."
  • Get into a nighttime routine like taking a bath and reading a book to create good sleep habits for your baby. 
  • Go only to trusted resources like your pediatrician and not store clerks when it comes to products or devices that promise more sleep. 

Does safe sleep make a difference?


Safe sleep is often confused with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Murray said. SIDS cannot always be explained, but over the past few years, research on SIDS cases has focused on evaluating the cause so that future deaths can be prevented.

Unsafe sleep deaths among babies are 100% preventable.