Crib Tents: Another Hazard from the World of Unregulated Child Products

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V6, I1

VINALHAVEN, ME – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has opened a probe in December 2008 into the strangulation death of a two-year-old who became entangled in the mesh netting of his crib tent.

Noah Thompson of Harvard, Mass., was strangled when his head got stuck between the mattress and mesh covering that was placed over his portable crib. His parents, Marc Thompson and Lisa Rosen, told state police that they had used the netting to prevent their son from climbing
out of the crib.

This incident was one of at least 10 involving crib tents or canopies in which a child was entangled in the mesh, the dome inverted, or the child managed to tear a hole in the canopy entrapping the child. Some of these incidents have been reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, some have appeared on parenting message boards. At least two incidents have resulted in a child death.

News reports did not mention the product implicated in Thompson’s death by name, and the CPSC, which launched an immediate investigation, is prohibited from releasing the brand name until its investigation is complete. There appear to be only a handful of crib tent manufacturers worldwide, including one in India and another in Australia. One of the attractions in warm weather countries is the protection from insects they offer children. In the U.S., the Massachusetts-based Tots-In-Mind Inc., appears to be the only manufacturer of crib tents.

Tots-In-Mind’s Cozy Crib Tent and Crib Tent II are domed canopies that fit over fiberglass cross rails arching over the top rail of a crib; the mesh sides extend down inside the slatted crib sides. Tots-In-Mind advertises these products as protection against crib falls and intrusions ranging from pets to insects to other unwanted objects. Sold at major retailers, such as Walmart, Baby Express and Burlington Coat Factory, the Cozy Crib Tent and Crib Tent II offer parents “peace of mind,” and assurances from the manufacturer that it is “safety tested.”

But the Cozy Crib Tent and Crib Tent II have been a source of worry and tragedy for some parents who relied on the company’s promises. On October 5, 2007, Nicholas Blanco, 2, of Ashburn, VA, suffered permanent and devastating injuries when he became entrapped and strangled by a Cozy Crib Tent.

On the message board,, one poster claimed that a Cozy Crib Tent caused her child’s death:

“The Company won’t even so much as validate my complaint regarding my son’s death. This product WAS a death trap plain and simple. I got it to help keep my very active climbing toddler safe. What it ended up doing is costing him his life. He ripped apart the netting and strangled in this. So please I beg you don’t use this. Co-sleep, put your child’s crib in your room, sleep on your child’s floor ANYTHING but use this.”

Other mothers have appealed to parents on web-based message boards to avoid the Cozy Crib Tent, based on near-misses:

“Please check your Crib Tent if you have one. Dallas has the Original Crib Tent on her sleigh crib. I put her down for a nap as her ears were hurting her. The ends of the crib tent were loose.

She was fighting going down for a nap and was playing in the crib. The end of the flap got caught around her neck when the Velcro straps and the ties got caught on each other. She tried to get out of it but it was too tightly wound around her neck and body. God only knows what would of happened if I finally hadn’t decided to go in there to see why she wouldn’t go to sleep. The Crib Tent is coming off and going in the trash. Please check your crib tent and make sure it is properly installed. Dallas is fine now. I on the other hand am a basket case at the moment,” wrote Susan Hodges of Breauxbridge, Louisiana.

“I bought this because my son is a Houdini of the toddler world and was forever climbing out of his crib. The tent worked for a while until he figured out how to unzip it from the inside. We used a big safety pin to secure the zipper on the outside of the tent where he couldn’t reach it. Then he ripped the short end of it apart. I sewed it back together. The final straw was when I was reading a book at his nap time and heard him making weird noises in his room. He had pulled apart the long backside of the tent where there’s a channel for a long plastic reinforcing stick. His neck had become trapped between the plastic stick in it’s channel and the side of his crib when he stuck his head through the opening he had made. I have called Tots In Mind about this, and this product is still on the shelf being sold to the public,” wrote another poster.

Crib tents are among the esoterica of parenting aids in the modern age that are sold under the regulatory radar. While full-sized and non-standard size cribs are subject to mandatory requirements governing the hardware, adjustable rails, mattress size, decorative cut-outs, construction and finishing and presence of lead, crib tents are subject to no government regulations. Tots-In-Mind is a member of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which awards some member’s products a “safety certification.” But this is a voluntary program and the standards and testing procedures associated with it are not transparent to the public. The Cozy Crib Tent and Crib Tent II are not JPMA certified; nor are there any standards governing its structural integrity. The company’s claims of safety testing can not be measured against any objective criteria.

“Where federal standards fail, you have ASTM standards, but crib tents are not even on the radar screen,” says Donald Mays, Consumers Union’s Senior Director of Product Safety and Technical Public Policy. “And right now there are such big problems with cribs, play yards and portable cribs. Millions have been recalled because of defects.”

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 will do little to remedy the lack of standards for crib tents. The act requires the establishment of standards and certificates of compliance for durable juvenile products that fall into 12 categories: cribs; toddler beds; high chairs, booster chairs, and hook-on chairs; bath seats; gates and other enclosures for confining a child; play yards; stationary activity centers; infant carriers; strollers; walkers; swings; and bassinets and cradles. Crib tents appear to fall outside the new law’s purview.

Mesh Designs a Longstanding Suffocation Hazard

But at least one key element of the Cozy Crib Tent and the Crib Tent II – the mesh covering – has been implicated as a suffocation hazard in other crib products. The CPSC has been periodically recalling cribs with mesh siding for at least 35 years. In 1983, the agency issued an unusual “urgent appeal” for consumers to heed safety recalls, based on 10 infant deaths in mesh-sided cribs and playpens since 1973.

Over a six-day span in May 1983, the CPSC learned of two infant deaths in mesh-sided playpens. The infants had “apparently rolled into the mesh pocket formed when one side of the playpen was not in a fully raised position,” the agency said. This followed a nationwide alert in March 1983, alerting consumers that drop side mesh playpens and portable mesh cribs, used with a side left down, can pose a severe safety hazard to infants.

In those 10 years, the CPSC was aware of four deaths involving mesh-sided playpens and six deaths and two non-fatal accidents involving mesh-sided cribs since. “Seven of the incidents involved children six weeks old or less who were left in the playpen or crib with one of the two drop sides in the down position. After falling off the end of the mattress pad, the infant’s head or chest was compressed between the floor board and the mesh side so the child was unable to continue breathing,” the agency warned.

In 1987, Shelcore, Inc., of South Plainfield, New Jersey, recalled its Crib Soft Playground, an activity center for use in cribs and playpens, after a 14-month-old trapped his head between a loosely tied toy and the mesh on a playpen and strangled to death. The agency noted that the instructions do not advise consumers about proper string tightness or against use in a mesh-sided crib or mesh-sided playpen. When strings are not tied tightly or become loosened with use, the agency warned, the string between the toy and the crib may present a potential strangulation hazard if a child were to become entrapped between the toy and the crib or playpen side.

In 2007, the CPSC issued a second recall notice for mesh-sided cribs sold through a Puerto Rican company, B&B Stores. As in the first notice, issued in 1997, the CPSC warned that the mattress pad compresses, a gap can occur between the side panels and the bed frame, and the snaps can separate from the frame, presenting suffocation hazards. In addition, the side rails can bend, presenting an entrapment hazard.

Although a CPSC spokesman, in responding to the death of Noah Thompson, noted that many manufacturers had abandoned mesh designs in their crib products, some still incorporate mesh into their designs and mesh continues to pose a suffocation hazard.

Last year, Playkids U.S.A. of Brooklyn, N.Y. was forced to recall about 2,000 convertible cribs, because the mesh sides of the convertible crib expand, creating a gap between the mattress and the side through which an infant can slip. This crib had been implicated in the August 31 death of a 5-month-old child who became entrapped between the mattress and the stationary side rail of the convertible crib and suffocated.

Consumers Union advises parents against putting anything other than a child in a crib – including crib bumpers, stuffed animals, pillows, comforters and other add-ons. “The best crib is a naked crib,” says Mays.

Copyright @ Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., 2009