It's something parents have heard before -- don't put babies in cribs with pillows, soft bedding or stuffed animals -- and now a new report shows what can happen when caregivers don't follow that advice.

The report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that there were 241 nursery product deaths in children under the age of five between 2002 and 2004.

Nearly half of the deaths (97 deaths) involved cribs.

Many of the children suffocated while lying face down on pillows or other soft bedding. In some cases, the children died after a sibling rolled onto them within the crib.

The product safety agency says in a crib, "less is more." It recommends that parents eliminate soft items and place babies on their backs.

Another 13 per cent of the deaths involved items that were around the crib, such as window blind cords, baby monitor cords, curtain tiebacks and pacifier ribbons.

Another 25 per cent resulted from cribs with broken or missing parts and another six per cent of crib deaths involved babies becoming trapped because of a mattress that was the wrong size. The agency says never allow a gap larger than two fingers at any point between the sides of the crib and the mattress.

Three babies died over the three-year period after falling out of the crib.

There were also 32 deaths associated with playpens between 2002 and 2004; about a third, once again, involved soft bedding that led to suffocation.

During the two-year period, three dozen baby deaths were associated with baby baths and bath seats. All of the deaths occurred when the children were left unattended by a caregiver.

The agency points out that none of the deaths during that period involved products that had been recalled.

The CPSC recommends:

  • To reduce the risk of suffocation, place baby to sleep on his or her back in a crib that meets current safety standards
  • To prevent suffocation, never use a pillow as a mattress for baby to sleep on or to prop baby's head
  • Do not use old, broken or modified cribs
  • Regularly tighten hardware to keep sides firm
  • Never allow a gap larger than two fingers at any point between the sides of the crib and the mattress
  • Never place a crib near a window with blind or curtain cords
  • Properly set up playpens according to manufacturers' directions. Do not add extra mattresses, pillows or cushions in the playpen.
  • Routinely check nursery products against recall lists and remove recalled products from your home
Canadians can also check the federal government's Healthy Canadians (external - login to view) website for updates on child product recalls in Canada.

Health Canada notes that it does not recommend the use of bumper pads (external - login to view) in cribs because they pose an entanglement, entrapment, strangulation, and suffocation hazard.

They note that between 1987 and 2001, 23 incidents involving bumper pads were reported to Health Canada, including one strangulation death, one suffocation death, and three near-suffocation occurrences.

The Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Institute of Child Health, and the Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths have also issued statements advising against the use of bumper pads.

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