Over the years, as we’ve worked with tens of thousands of families on their children’s sleep, we’ve seen countless baby sleep products come and go. But here’s one that stuck around (one for which we’ve seen many, many iterations): the baby sleep positioner.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Those products that go in the crib or bed, and that promise to keep your baby safely positioned for sleep. Many of them claim to be great for newborns, as they keep baby cozy and snug. Others claim to be ideal for babies with reflux, as they slightly elevate baby’s head and upper torso.
But are these products really all that they claim to be? And, most importantly, are they safe?
Sleep Positioners and Sleep Devices
Sleep positioners and sleep devices like crib wedges, head-shaping baby pillows, baby “nests” (like the popular Dock-a-Tot), and head-and-neck supporters are usually used inside your baby’s crib. Other stand-alone sleep devices (like the dexBaby Day Dreamer) are designed to rest directly on a floor. All of these sleep positioners and sleep devices generally promise to do the same things: to keep your baby positioned properly, to elevate your baby’s head, to mitigate the worst of your baby’s reflux symptoms, to solve any flat-head problems your baby might have from spending so much of her snooze time on her back, and/or to improve your baby’s overall quality of sleep.
Do they work? Well, if Amazon reviews are any indication, parents seem to love these products! Many have glowing reviews, with parents boasting that their babies sleep for hours in them. And, we know at least one of our clients tells us she loves the dockatot quite often. After all, they are lightweight and portable, which is a big selling point.
But are these products safe or would it be better to get something like a Pack n Play or Rock n Play? Regardless of whether or not they work or if you absolutely love it, should you be using them in your baby’s crib?
Sleep Positioners and Sleep Devices: Not Safe For Unsupervised Sleep
We cannot say this enough: sleep positioners are not safe for unsupervised sleep. While some of our U.K. clients have told us that sleep positioners are approved for overnight crib-use in the U.K., this is not the case in the U.S. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has released several warnings in the past 6 years urging parents not to use sleep positioners or in-the-crib sleep devices to improve baby sleep. Babies can (and have) rolled in these devices or become wedged between the sleep positioner and the floor or crib mattress. No matter how foolproof and safe these sleep devices claim to be, there are so often stories of babies being injured or killed in them. You should never allow your baby to sleep unsupervised in anything but a crib containing firm mattress covered in a tight-fitting crib sheet and nothing else.
Now, to their credit, the makers of these sleep positioners and devices seem (technically) to be following these guidelines. The makers of the Dock-a-Tot, for instance, do not expressly state on their website that the Dock-a-Tot is to be used for sleeping; instead, they claim it’s great for tummy time, for diaper changes, for “lounging”, and for “resting”. Similarly, the dexBaby Day Dreamer manufacturers claim that the Day Dreamer allows mom to get “a few moments to herself”, and pictures on their website all show the Day Dreamer being used for supervised sleep.
But here’s the issue – browse Amazon reviews or customer testimonials of any sleep positioner or sleep device, and you’ll find that parents are using these products in their babies’ cribs at night, all night long, with no supervision. And, as stated, this is not safe.
Sleep Positioners and Sleep Devices: Should I Avoid Them At All Costs?
Here’s some good news: while sleep positioners and sleep devices should never be used in your baby’s crib and/or during unsupervised sleep, you can certainly use them while your baby is supervised. Many positioners and devices are great to use for tummy time, or when your baby is resting next to you. They can provide an easy way to ensure your baby is content, which in turn gives you some much-needed free time.
Sleep Positioners and Sleep Devices: What’s an Exhausted Parent To Do?
It’s no wonder, really, that tired parents turn to sleep positioners and sleep devices to get their babies sleeping. What else are exhausted parents and overtired babies to do? As tired parents yourselves, you probably know a thing or two about the siren song of a “miracle” product that promises to give you a happily-sleeping baby, right? Or even if a product doesn’t expressly promise to help your baby sleep all night, but all the parent testimonials tell you that said product will do just that – how can you resist?
But no matter how desperate you become, it is so, so, SO important to put your baby’s safety first, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, along with the FDA, have told parents (repeatedly) that these sleep positioners just not safe to use for unsupervised sleep.
This does not mean, however, that you have to reconcile yourself to endless sleep deprivation and chronic exhaustion. Not at all! You can help your baby learn to sleep peacefully in a way that is 100% safe: you can gently help your baby learn to sleep through sleep coaching. When you sleep coach, you help your baby gradually overcome any sleep associations and learn to fall asleep more independently. This, in turn, assures that your baby can fall back to sleep after any night wakings or early-nap wakings. Best of all, when you sleep coach, you don’t have to rely on expensive products to put your baby to sleep; your baby will be able to fall asleep naturally, in her crib. Sleep training is a process you can try at home, on your own (our free guides are a great place to start); it’s also something that our team of expert consultants can help you with.