By Suzy Khimm and Elizabeth Chuck - NBC News
The Boppy Company's popular newborn cushion, which was recalled nearly two years ago, has been linked to the deaths of at least 10 babies since 2015, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.
The company recalled its product from all outlets in September 2021 after CPSC received allegations that some babies choked on them. At the time, this padded pillow was associated with eight deaths between December 2015 and June 2020. Some 3 million cushions were removed.
Two more babies died in the months after the 2021 recall, according to federal authorities, who again requested that this product be taken off the market. CPSC and The Boppy Company urged consumers to stop using the product and contact the manufacturer for a refund.
The Boppy Company recalled over 3 million loungers in 2021.Consumer Product Safety Commission
CPSC Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric said in an interview that parents whose children died using this bed thought their babies were safe. "And then the worst happens," he said. "With a product like this it's all too easy for the child to fall asleep in it and that puts them in danger," he added.
Federal authorities found that these cushions, which must be used when babies are awake and supervised, can put children in danger of suffocation in just minutes, especially if they fall asleep.
Among the newly revealed deaths is one that occurred in October 2021, in which a baby was allegedly placed on the pillow to sleep: he ended up rolling under an adult pillow that was nearby and died of positional asphyxiation. The other recently announced death occurred a month later, when a baby was placed on the cushion in bed with one of his parents, although in this case it was not determined how he died.
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An investigation by NBC News found in May that these baby products from Boppy and other brands are linked to more than twice as many deaths as federal regulators had previously announced.
In all, NBC News found that at least 26 babies had died in incidents involving the Boppy bed and other products since December 2015, according to CPSC data, autopsies, court documents and reports from consumers and local authorities.
The two new deaths that federal regulators announced Tuesday are not among the 26 counted by NBC News.
Michael Trunk, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attorney representing two families whose babies died on Boppy pillows — a four-day-old girl and a one-week-old boy — said the need for The Boppy Company to re-recall the product showed it hadn't been effective the first time around.
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"I think this underscores the fact that the public hasn't gotten the message," Trunk said, "now two more babies have died. It's going to keep happening."
The Boppy Company issued a statement Tuesday encouraging consumers to return the product. "Our hearts ache for anyone who has lost a child," said Amy St. Germain, a spokeswoman for the company.
Germain added that consumers should follow expert guidelines on safe sleep practices, which recommend that babies lie on their backs on a firm, flat surface, without blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or anything else that might obstruct their breathing.
The CPSC also sent a letter Tuesday urging Facebook and Instagram's parent company, Meta, to take more efficient steps to stop illegal secondhand sales of the cushion on these networks. The regulatory agency called it an "especially egregious example" of illegally selling a recalled product, despite repeated calls by CPSC and Boppy for those ads to be removed.
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In the past year, CPSC has asked Meta to remove ads for these products an average of 1,000 times a month, according to the letter.
"Meta can and must do much more to save lives," CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. said in a statement.
Meta said in a statement that it regularly reviews its policies and implementation. The company has previously said that Facebook Marketplace policies prohibit the sale of recalled items. "When we find ads that violate our guidelines, we remove them," Meta said.
Consumer safety advocates have told NBC News that it's harder to report recalls on Facebook than on other online resale platforms, such as Craigslist and eBay. Facebook requires users to choose a specific reason for reporting posts for removal, but there's no option that clearly fits an item that has been recalled.
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There are pillows of various shapes and sizes. Boppy's are round, with a shallow slit in the center, different from the design of her popular U-shaped nursing pillow. Other companies manufacture cushions with rectangular or oval pads surrounded by raised perimeters.
A CPSC-commissioned study that included several brands and baby products found that many of the infant infants who died suffocated after turning over or turning their faces against fabric surfaces. Others died of postural asphyxiation when their breathing was obstructed when they hunched forward or arched backwards. Babies can also suffocate when rolling from loungers to other surfaces.
Manufacturers claim that their pillows are safe if used with babies awake and under supervision. Previously, Boppy said in a statement that it never marketed its sleep and that the product warned against its unsupervised use.
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But for years, images of babies sleeping in them have circulated on social media. Other brands once sold their cushions explicitly for co-sleeping (with parents).
At the time of Boppy's 2021 retirement, two Republican CPSC members came out in favor of expanding federal regulation for pillows and similar baby products, NBC News reported based on interviews with current and former agency employees and consumer advocates.
But a day after the recall was announced, both scrapped the measure and instructed the agency to help develop voluntary safety standards.
According to many consumer advocates and child safety experts, other pillows that may pose a similar risk to Boppy's are still on sale.
CPSC is expected to consider new rules for the product in the coming weeks, according to two agency employees.