HOW SAFE ARE BABY HAMMOCKS FOR SLEEP?
Apr 28 - 2020
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Who knows what a baby hammock is? I will be totally honest that I was only familiar with the type that attaches to the crib before researching for this article!
There are several different brands/types on the market. We will explore what the options are and if a baby hammock is safe for sleep.
There is a baby hammock for crib, brands like crescent womb baby hammock and Lullaby Hammock, and portable ones; as well as hammocks that are not even for sleep!
We will cover FAQs like:
I hope to shed some light on these devices so that you can make an informed decision for your baby and family.
Generally, as parents, one of the decisions we have to make when bringing a baby home is where they will sleep.
This looks different for every family, but it is something parents should research beforehand and have plan A (and b, and c) in place so that you are not making a rash decision in a sleep-deprived state. Should baby sleep in a crib, bassinet, pack n play, mini crib, baby hammock, parents bed…? The list goes on!
One option you may explore is a baby hammock for the crib.
These devices are made of mesh typically and attach to the crib rails to stay suspended over the crib creating a “womb-like” experience, so they say.
From the Crescent Womb website, “Crescent Womb was created to ease the transition from being in the womb to being in the world. Crescent Womb is designed to be extremely beneficial during all stages of infancy. Statistically, the peak age for SIDS and other sleep-related hazards is from 3-6 months. Newborns can use Crescent Womb from birth and babies typically begin transitioning into a crib or toddler bed when they are able to sit up unassisted, attempting to crawl, or voluntarily rolling over.”
As of this time, infant/baby crib hammocks have not been tested by strong peer-reviewed evidence-based studies, nor are they approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for infant sleep.
There is no evidence that they are as safe as a firm crib mattress for sleep.
Here are some reasons the baby hammock is not safe for babies:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for safe sleep includes the ABC’s of sleep: an infant should be alone, on their back, in their crib on a firm and flat surface.
For a helpful review of safe sleep rules, you can read this blog about safe sleep for babies.
Alone means without anything else in their sleep space including bumpers (yes, even mesh ones), stuffed animals, blankets, sheets, pillows, and loveys. While all of that is cute when decorating a nursery, it is not practical and it is best to stick with a tightly fitted sheet, with a swaddle or Kyte BABY sleep bag!
The “Back to Sleep” campaign was launched in the ’90s as part of the safe sleep campaign when SIDS deaths were on the rise. It significantly lowered the rate of SIDS death from then on. Therefore, it is important to always place your infant on their back to sleep for the first 12 months.
Once your baby can roll, they are safe to sleep on their belly should they choose that as their position of comfort. Thus, if they roll in their crib, it’s completely fine to leave them that way (so long as your sleep space is free of any loose objects).
If you were to put your infant in a position they can not easily get into, they could get stuck in a way that blocks their airway.
A crib with a firm sleep surface and tight, fitted sheet that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the safest surface for your little one to sleep on. You might think they need something softer, but when you place your baby down alone, on their back, in their crib on a firm surface then the mattress should not indent at all (see below).
There is a risk of rolling out of the hammock which could cause an injury. The baby hammock may also delay development by restricting movement.
And last, when babies are curled in a position that brings their chin to their chest, it compromises their airway and can cause positional asphyxiation.
This article discusses positional asphyxiation in more detail!
That’s why parents are urged not to leave their newborns in an infant car seat for prolonged periods of time. A 2016 UK study showed babies who sleep on an angle (such as would happen in a hammock) had “significant effects on newborns breathing and heart rates.”
So are baby hammocks safe for newborns? Unfortunately not as it does not meet the recommendations for safe sleep for babies.
This study discusses if baby hammocks are safe for sleeping. “We strongly recommend that hammocks should not be used for unsupervised sleep.”
Baby hammocks and their dangers are not new. In 1985, a product called the “Crib Cuddle” was recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission after being linked to the death of a five-week-old infant who was strangled by the product. There were also two other “near misses” attributed to the hammock.
The CPSC concluded: “The Crib Cuddle can be dangerous if an infant, in moving about, is able to reach the edge of the hammock and place his or her head over the edge possibly resulting in suffocation.”
Health Canada states the following:
So why are unsafe products on the market?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues recommendations for manufacturers of baby products as does the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which requires third-party testing for many baby items.
The problem with baby hammocks, however, is that they are largely untested and only subject to recall when something goes wrong. There are standards for almost all items but passing regular standards to be sold doesn’t make them safe for sleep. Only items that pass bassinet, Playard or crib standards are safe
“Anyone can sell anything online and anyone can buy anything,” Macklin said. “Certainly, you have parents who do swear by these so you can see some recommendations this way. So people will buy these.”
The product on the market currently has safety certifications that cover lesser safety regulations such as the sharp edges rule for toys (16 CFR 1500.51-53). Or flammability standards for textiles. They are in a loophole; currently, the hammocks don't count as cribs or mattresses.
There are no mandatory safety standards for crib hammocks, which are classified as an “infant inclined sleep product.” There is a voluntary safety standard for such products (called ASTM F3118-17) and the CPSC is working to cover crib hammocks under that standard.
But as of this writing, crib hammocks fall into a loophole—they aren’t bassinets, cradles or cribs . . . all of which are covered under mandatory safety rules.
That said, if you’re enamored with the idea of your baby rocking in a hammock, there is a good time to use such devices: When you’re present and watching.
“If the parent is awake and doing dishes in the kitchen and the mom and dad are watching that is fine,” Macklin said. “Because they can react to any unsafe situation that might come up. But if it’s a situation where the parent is sound asleep and the baby is sound asleep it might become unsafe for any number of reasons.”
Fun fact: it is actually illegal to make that claim!
According to the FDA, “To date, the FDA has not cleared or approved a baby product to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. The Agency is not aware of any scientific studies showing that a medical device prevents or reduces the risk of SIDS. In fact, baby products with such claims can actually pose a suffocation risk to infants.
As a result, the agency cautions parents and caregivers not to purchase or use baby products with claims to prevent or reduce the chance of SIDS.”
Any device that claims it reduces or prevents the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), should be reported to the FDA.
It is also worth noting that anything labeled as a “sleeper” is not actually approved for sleep. Only things labeled as a bassinet, crib, or pack n play has been approved as safe sleep for babies.
It is also important to differentiate between SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and ASSB (Accidental Strangulation and Suffocation in Bed). Where SIDS does not have a known cause (it is a diagnosis of exclusion), ASSB deaths are classified after a thorough investigation of sleep space and autopsy.
Contrary to what some may believe, SIDS is not choking, apnea, or suffocation. Those can be categorized under deaths caused by ASSB, Accidental Suffocation, and Strangulation in Bed.
There are other versions of baby hammocks that do not attach to the crib. These hammocks come with a baby hammock stand. Amby is a name brand that is a baby hammock with a stand.
It could even be considered a portable baby hammock!
I guess it would depend on what your intended use is for using a baby hammock to determine what is the best baby hammock.
If your purpose is to use them for sleep, then there is no one. If you are wanting a cute place for baby to hang out in the house while they are awake, then you could use an Amby baby hammock.
There is a travel hammock on the market, however, the safest place for your child on a flight is in their FAA-approved car seat.
The baby airplane hammock is not FAA approved, is not safe, and is not allowed on airplanes. It is a big risk for an airline to let you use this product, much less even take it on board!
According to consumer reports, “When you’re flying with a child under 2 years old, the government and airlines allow you to travel with the baby in your lap. While that might lead you to believe the practice is safe, CR and other experts strongly advise against it.
(And there are a few other, safer, ways to save on booking children’s fares, though not as many as parents would like.) Your child should be securely restrained in an appropriate car seat.”
The good news is that there is an alternative. There are options for “hanging bassinets” or “hanging cribs” that are similar to a hammock while also being flat and firm.
The jury is unfortunately out on if these are safe for unsupervised sleep! You would have to investigate if a product that labels itself a “hanging crib”, “hanging bassinet” or “hanging cradle” to see if it passes safety standards by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for sleep and not just for awake time.
There are options for a hammock bassinet with a mattress that hangs or a hammock with a stand, but the ones with a stand will likely not be totally flat and therefore unsafe for sleep.
Because positional asphyxiation is “silent”, even supervised sleep poses a risk and as parents, we should be mindful that it does not take long for that to be a risk.
If you would like to make a baby hammock for your little one to hang out in during the day, then you have some fun options!
You have to choose a strong, sturdy fabric and no longer use the baby hammock when the baby is mobile/can roll as this poses a safety risk of a baby rolling out of the hammock!
This is an alternative for using a baby swing as the baby hammock will gently sway and comfort them. Just move them when they are asleep onto a firm, flat surface.
Then you would need a hook, chain, spring, and rod that allows the fabric to stay open. From there, you’ll have to sew the fabric, find a safe spot to hang it, make sure all the materials will support the weight of your child, and triple check the safety as many babies have been injured from using a baby hammock (both correctly and incorrectly!)
You could learn how to make some sort of macrame decoration for a hanging bassinet/cradle if you are wanting to find something that will match the decor of your home.
Let us be honest though, these sort of things are only used for a short period of time, it probably is not worth the effort of learning how to make it unless it is a skill you are wanting to learn anyway.
Is the baby hammock good or bad? As a parent, it is best to review all of the information available to make an informed decision.
It is best to look at what your intention is for using a baby hammock and what baby hammock you are looking to purchase specifically. Baby hammocks should never be used in the crib (as nothing attached or added to the crib is safe) or used for unsupervised sleep.
There are a lot of options out there that are not baby hammocks that can be used safely for sleep and awake time without the added worry of the baby injuring themselves.
Your options would be a crib, play yard, or bassinet for sleep and things like a swing or play mat for awake time! If you have a really fussy baby, then check out ring slings or baby carriers to stay hands-free while also comforting your baby.
For more information on safety standards for inclined sleep surfaces, you can read about that in this article. They say, “Infant positioning during use: In 13 reported incidents the infant moved into a compromised position. Most of the incidents involved hammock-like products, which shifted into a non-level rest position as the infant moved.
Two infants ended up trapped in a corner with face in the fabric/bedding of the product. In two other reports, consumers complained of difficulty in preventing the infant from getting into a head-to-chin position.”
With this information at your fingertips, I think it would be safe to say that a baby hammock for sleep is not worth the risk!
Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!