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ParentingNursing Pillows Responsible For 162 Infant Deaths Per New Report

Nursing Pillows Responsible For 162 Infant Deaths Per New Report

It’s one of the most common items you’ll find in the homes of newborn babies with nursing mothers. But, a new NBCNews report reveals, it might be one of the most unexpectedly deadly items as well. Nursing pillows, which often come in C-shapes that wrap around a mother’s waist while she’s nursing, are sometimes used to prop up a baby while they are resting but aren’t ever supposed to be used for sleeping.

Incorrect use of these pillows has led to 162 accidental newborn deaths dating back to 2007, according to a tragic new report. Now the government is considering an intervention, potentially proposing safety requirements for nursing pillows. But, NBC reports, some are pushing back against this, saying it will deter women from nursing.

There are 1.34 million nursing pillows sold each year, and it’s one of the most common registry items for new parents who plan to nurse. Some common examples of these products include the Boppy pillow, My Brest Friend, Luna Lullaby Nursing Pillow, and other brands.

While it may seem like they are a convenient option for propping babies up to practice tummy time, get a better view of life around them, or to take a quick snooze, misuse of the product—especially coupled with being left unattended or sleeping on soft bedding—can be dangerous. At least three of the incidents reported by NBC involved the mother falling asleep while nursing the baby, while others slumped down and couldn’t breathe properly.

Dr. Jessica Madden, an IBCLC (lactation consultant), board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist, medical director of Aeroflow Breastpumps, and NICU doctor at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, says that while the news is tragic, it’s not all that surprising. 

“During my career as a pediatrician, I have seen nursing pillows surge in popularity, both as a breastfeeding tool/prop and a place for infants to be put to sleep. Some parents purposely place their babies to sleep on nursing pillows to keep their heads elevated as a means to prevent spitting up and reflux. The problem with this is that infants do not have good neck control,” she says. “Even if a baby is propped upright…and seems to be in a secure position, it’s easy for their head to slump forward toward their chest, which can cut off the airway and stop breathing.”

She adds that premature babies are especially susceptible to suffocating like this when the product isn’t used as intended. She never recommends one brand over another, as she finds them all to be similar. Now, she’s hesitant to recommend them at all. 

“With this sobering news about infant deaths, I will be less likely to recommend nursing pillows at all. Instead, I will encourage breastfeeding parents to explore different nursing positions, such as the kangaroo hold and side-lying, that do not require any pillows or props. Mothers were able to breastfeed without nursing pillows for millennia, so they are definitely not a necessity,” she says.

In some cases, misuse of the nursing pillow might not have been the only contributing factor to infant death, the report found. For example, some children had additional illnesses such as pneumonia. The babies in these instances were mostly less than four months old, with the youngest being just three days.

One Springfield, Ohio parent who lost her baby told NBC News that she thought it was safe, of course, or she “never would have brought that damn thing in my house.” Her story, along with the 161 others, is why the Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning customers again they aren’t safe for sleep, and might take additional steps to make the pillows safer. However, the Breastfeeding Infant Development Support Alliance, whose funding includes two nursing pillow manufacturers themselves, is pushing back, claiming women should be able to “choose” how they feed their babies. 

Until then, the experts are clear in their recommendations—never place a baby on an elevated surface to sleep, only on a firm, flat surface, free of any additional items or fluffy bedding. Their lives depend on it.

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