Agency fails to probe deaths linked to popular baby product

Michelle Bobinski with her son, Tyler Baker, who died at 5 months old.

Distraught parents often don't want to talk about what happened or can't remember exactly how they found their baby before taking him or her out of the crib. Police reports sometimes do not explicitly explain how a child was found or what was in the crib.

Thach and other experts believe bumper-related suffocations are underreported because they can be wrongly attributed to sudden infant death syndrome if the death is not thoroughly investigated.

Statistics from the National Center for Child Death Review suggest bumper pads play a role in more deaths than the safety agency knows about. Since 2008, the federally funded group has received 14 reports where a bumper pad was relevant in the suffocation of a baby, though other products were sometimes relevant too. Death review teams in about 33 states reported to the group.

That many deaths tied to a product is cause for concern, said director Theresa Covington. "I really think it needs attention and study," she said.

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission told the Tribune it had reports of 28 infant deaths over two decades that were associated with bumper pads, meaning the product played a role in the death.

The agency then backpedaled on that number earlier this year, stating that in all cases "confounding factors were more likely to have been primary contributors."

But the Tribune found several cases investigated by the agency where bumpers do appear to be primary contributors to the deaths, even though other products were also mentioned.

In 1998, the baby sitter of a 7-month-old Missouri boy found him with his face pressed into a bumper pad. Police photos of the baby's crib show a stuffed animal and blankets at one end of the crib, but a re-enactment with a doll shows that the baby was found in another corner of the crib with his face in the bumper pad.

Tyler Baker was found pitched forward with his face in a bumper pad at his baby sitter's house in 2007. The 5-month-old baby from Wenona, Ill., was put to sleep on his stomach but somehow worked his way to a corner of the crib and ended up, face down, in the bumper pad.

Photos of the crib show a musical toy, blanket and stuffed animal at one end of the crib, but Tyler was found at the other end. Part of a blanket hanging over the crib edge was under his head as well, according to a police report.

His mother, Michelle Bobinski, said the baby's bed at home had bumper pads too. "I'd never heard about a child suffocating on anything in a crib," she said.

Safe sleeping tips for infants

•Place babies to sleep on their backs.

•Use a baby crib or bassinet with a firm mattress.

•Do not put anything in the crib besides the baby and a fitted sheet over the mattress.