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Penn. coroner links nursing pillows to three infant deaths

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A central Pennsylvania coroner says three infants have died because a popular nursing pillow was misused.

Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick says the infants died from posture asphyxiation likely linked to crescent-shaped nursing pillows. The pillows are known to be dangerous when babies are sleeping.

“The head starts pushing back on the curve of the pillow and the head goes forward,” Hetrick said. “So, three at this point. Three’s a lot.”

Hetrick said the infants were only a few months old. He urged parents to use caution with the pillows.

Wendy O’Shea with Pinnacle Health’s Cribs for Kids Program explained those pillows were never intended for naps.

“The baby could slide down,” she said, “and if the baby slides down, its airway can be cut off. The baby could accidentally roll, and even if it just rolls on its side its airway can be cut off.”

O’Shea said there are several companies who make nursing support pillows, but the leading product is called the Boppy Pillow.

The Boppy Pillow website has several warnings under “Safe Sleep” that warns parents to “never allow baby to sleep on a Boppy Pillow or Boppy Newborn Lounger.”

The tag attached to the pillow has warnings in English and Spanish.

“The Boppy Pillow was made to help moms with breast feeding or feeding, so that they’re able to use that to support that when they’re nursing and awake and holding the baby and with them,” O’Shea said. “It was never intended to be used for sleep.”

In 2004, Boston Billows recalled 8,000 C-shaped nursing pillows after reports of infant suffocation deaths.

In 2006, county health departments distributed fliers regarding nursing pillow dangers in New York and Maryland. One news report stated three infant deaths were linked to nursing pillows in Westchester, New York.

In 2014, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health found accidental suffocation deaths doubled nationally in the decade before 2010, from seven deaths per 100,000 infants to nearly 16.

That’s why O’Shea said education is paramount.

O’Shea said expecting mothers and family members need to be educated before the baby arrives. She said most people do not know that cribs should be virtually empty.

“The best way is to lay your child down on their back on a firm mattress on a tightly fitted sheet – no bumper pads, no pillows, no stuffed animals – nothing in the the crib, just the crib and the baby,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Health has safe sleeping procedures for infants online.