Your Survivor Bias Concerning Baby Product Recalls Is Offensive And Dangerous

by Caila Smith
A stressed woman wearing black shirt and pants sitting barefooted on the floor with her hand on her ...

Trigger warning: child loss

Parents everywhere were up in arms when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled the beloved Fisher-Price Rock n’ Play back in 2019. And now that the Boppy Company has recalled more than 3.3 million of their Boppy Loungers linked to eight infant deaths, these same people are unleashing a similar and misplaced fury on grieving parents.

Unlike the Rock n’ Play, Boppy never promoted their loungers as a place for infants to sleep. And folks have used this as the pillar upon which they stand when blaming the victim’s parents.

“Nooooooooo. I have [two] and will be keeping for our next kid. Best baby product we had with our [first] kid. People need to stop letting their children be unsupervised while sleeping on a product not intended for sleep,” one parent wrote in the comments on a Facebook post that The Boppy Company made concerning the recall.

“Ughhhh! This is very annoying to me. It’s a LOUNGER!! (I’m very sorry to the babies who passed away on this, but…) If you left your baby to sleep on it and didn’t watch them, that’s on you. It’s a nice product that doesn’t deserve the bad rap,” another mother said.

What a sad world we live in that folks would be more outraged over a pillow coming off the market than eight, preventable infant deaths. Speaking as someone who has lost a child from the mysteriousness of SIDS, you can’t tell someone you are “very sorry” for their loss and use the word “but” in the same sentence. It’s victim-blaming at its finest, and a blatant declaration of survivor’s bias.

We all know what it’s like to see our baby sleeping on the couch, in their swing, or on an adult mattress and wrestling with the dreaded thought of having to wake them. I think it’s safe to say that this is a shared experience among us all. We might have been distracted, busy, or fell asleep ourselves. Our eyes might have come off of them for just a few moments. Or maybe we even guiltily weighed the consequences of our baby’s temporary sleep environment, but the risk seemed so unlikely that the five minutes of peace came out on top. So, we asked ourselves, what’s the worst that could happen in such a small amount of time?

When it comes to infant sleep, the stakes are alarmingly high. The worst that could happen is a baby could suffocate even under parental supervision. And if we can’t see how this tragedy could happen to anyone, including the most attentive parents, we are missing the mark.


Getty Images/iStockphoto

We don’t know the events that led up to these infant deaths, and these poor parents have suffered enough. Not only that, but we seem to be forgetting that we live in a world that’s notorious for promoting unsafe versions of infant sleep.

It’s gotten so bad that folks fear speaking out on unsafe sleep practices when they see them because of society’s “mama knows best” mindset. I’m pro-mother’s intuition, but there are certain aspects of parenthood that cannot withstand blurred lines, and safe sleep is one of them.

You see it all the time: a concerned mom politely commenting on someone’s picture or video on social media with a friendly nudge that babies shouldn’t have pillows in their bed. Next thing you know, dozens of moms are coming after her as if she’s drug their firstborn through the dirt. But if that mother’s baby were to die from accidental suffocation, it seems that people would be singing a different tune. Because as I’ve learned, people are quick to judge tragedies they’ve been fortunate enough to bypass.

It doesn’t matter if the Boppy Company never intended for babies to sleep on Boppy Loungers or that they came with substantial warning labels in several different languages. SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies under one year, and unsafe sleep heightens an infant’s chance of succumbing to sudden death. So why are products that go against the Back To Sleep Campaign — a campaign that reduced SIDS by more than 50% — allowed on shelves in the first place? It’s misleading for parents and irreparably dangerous for infants.

If folks need someone to blame, they should channel that energy toward the infant sleep industry that generates $325 million a year in sales. They market fluffy pillows and padded crib bumpers for babies when pediatricians everywhere say, “No fluffy pillows or padded crib bumpers!”

“These types of incidents are heartbreaking,” Robert S. Adler, Acting Chairman of the CPSC, said in a statement regarding the Boppy recall. “Loungers and pillow-like products are not safe for infant sleep, due to the risk of suffocation. Since we know that infants sleep so much of the time — even in products not intended for sleep — and since suffocation can happen so quickly, these Boppy lounger products are simply too risky to remain on the market.”

Babies give little regard to if their sleeping environment is unsafe, and they snooze so much. To suggest that there are safe ways to use a recalled baby product would mean watching their chests rise and fall without taking our eyes off of them for even a second. And not only is that risky, but it is also wildly unrealistic. Neglectful parents aren’t causing recalls on baby products; a few bad apples aren’t spoiling the bunch. Unsafe sleep is always a roll of the dice, and one child’s good outcome does not determine another’s.

As safe-sleep supporters are pointing out: supervised unsafe sleep is still unsafe sleep. And that includes the use of Boppy Loungers.