Infant Deaths Linked To Air Mattress Use: Study

Researchers are calling on public health officials to improve data collection efforts regarding infant deaths associated with air mattress, indicating that greater public awareness about the suffocation risks is needed, after finding more than 100 infant air mattress deaths throughout the United States. 

In a study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers highlight the potential dangers of air mattress use for infants, finding that even when the mattresses are completely inflated, infants can be at risk of suffocation problems, which are often underreported as a contributing cause of death.

Researcher Jennifer J. Doering, of the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee led a team in reviewing data from the National Child Death Review Case Reporting System, and identified at least 108 incidents of infant fatality reported between 2004 and 2015, across 24 states. The researchers found that suffocation by becoming trapped in deflating mattresses or the plastic molding obstructing the child’s airway were the main causes of death.

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Air mattresses have become increasingly popular infant beds over the last decade, especially among low-income families, or those who choose to use them for the convenience of their portability. However, these parents could be placing their baby at serious risk of suffocation hazards.

Doering found through reported cases of air mattress-related infant deaths that “even when fully inflated, air mattresses can mold to the infant’s face and obstruct the airway by forming an occlusive seal.”

Data collected in the study found dozens of reports of the air mattresses deflating or not inflated enough, allowing children to become entrapped within the thick plastic covering, resulting in suffocation deaths. However, many other inflatable designs for children bedding can pose risks to infants such as inflatable headboards and memory foam pillow tops.

One of the largest issues with air mattress-related infant deaths is that they are underreported, according to Doering. Researchers checked policy statements from 12 organizations, including federal agencies, health and consumer groups and found only one mentioned the potential risks of infant air mattress use. Additionally, when incident data is collected, there are often times not an option to select the injury or fatality was the result of an air mattress.

The focus of the study is to bring awareness to the public about the potential dangers of using inflatable mattresses for infants rather than traditional mattresses. Doering emphasized the importance for public health organizations and federal consumer safety organizations to improve their data collections methods to identify air mattress related infant fatality and injury incidents.

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