Babies can suffocate during sleep due to unsafe cots and bassinettes. This occurs by wedging of the infant's face, neck or chest between sleeping surfaces and/or bedding. Unintentional suffocation is preventable, and can be minimised if the right precautions are taken when purchasing sleep products.
Where deaths have occurred, cots and bassinettes commonly had an inappropriately sized mattress that allowed for wedging between the mattress and the base of the cot.
Another common factor was that the sides of the cot were faulty and allowed infants to slip through and become trapped.
The Child Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC) emphasises the following guidelines for families and whānau when buying sleeping products:
When looking to buy a second hand cot, it is important to ensure that it is compliant with the mandatory safety standard AS/NZS 2172:2003. All cots sold in New Zealand must comply with this standard. It requires that the cot must not have any gaps or protrusions that could trap a child or catch their clothing, and it must not have any sharp edges. Additionally, the sides must be high enough to stop a small child climbing out and there should not be any footholds.
It is important to note that if a cot is old or damaged, it may no longer meet the requirements of the standard. A product bought overseas might also not comply with NZ safety standards.
The Commerce Commission enforces the law and have a great help page.
Instructions for construction
When buying a second hand cot or bassinette, always ask for the instructions or check that they can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website. You need to know how to set up the product and use it safely.
Safe sleeping for babies includes:
- Putting babies to sleep on their backs so they can breathe unobstructed, and making sure there is no bedding nearby that might cover their faces. Avoid using pillows or loose blankets, remove any cords from bedding, and ensure there are no gaps in their bed in which they might become wedged.
- Make sure babies sleep in a smoke-free environment and that the room is not too hot, so they will not overheat while sleeping.
- Babies are safest when sleeping in their own cot or bassinette, and in the same room as their parents for the first six months of their lives.
- Ensure the person looking after a baby is sober, drug-free and alert to the baby’s needs.
What to look for when buying a cot
Many infant products are covered by standards which aim to prevent injury or reduce the risk.
- Look for a certification mark that shows the product complies with the AS/NZS 2172, such as the ‘S’ mark (must be accompanied by the Standard No and a Licence No) or the Australian ‘tick’ mark. There may also be some other certification body’s logo referenced.
- Check there are no broken or wobbly bars.
- All bolts and screws should be firmly in place and not protruding.
- The corner posts should not stick up more than 5mm.
- Make sure the mattress fits the cot snugly, and that there are not gaps which would allow a child to become trapped beneath the mattress.
- The mattress should be firm and flat.
What to look for when buying a bassinette
As soon as babies can support their own weight and lift themselves, they should go into a cot. Note: there are no Australian or New Zealand safety standards for bassinettes.
- The bassinette should be sturdy and durable with a wide base.
- The mattress should be firm and fit snugly around all sides with no gaps larger than 25mm.
- There should be no sharp edges or protrusions that could hurt a baby or snag their clothing.
- Mesh sides provide good ventilation.
What to look for when buying a portable cot
Avoid cots that have puffy fabric sides.
- The cot should have 2 locking mechanisms to prevent it from collapsing accidentally.
- The cot should be stable and have good base support.
- The mattress should fit snugly with no gaps at the sides or ends. Only use a mattress that was designed specifically for the cot.
- Inside the cot, there should be no footholds that could allow the child to climb out.
- Make sure there are no protrusions or sharp edges.
- There should be no gaps that could trap a child’s finger, limb or head.
- If the cot has a removable base, check that it is firmly secured.
- Mesh sides give good ventilation and allow you to easily see the child.
- A pocket on the outside of the cot is good for storing small items or toys.
There also a ‘Community Watch’ button on each listing. You can use this to report a product you suspect may be unsafe. Trade Me staff will check the product and, if there are any concerns, remove it or refer it to the Commerce Commission.
Selling a cot
People wishing to sell a product on Trade Me that appears on the list of Banned & restricted items – such as a child's car seat or a cot – must confirm they have read the guide to the Product Safety Standard for cots and that their cot complies.
Trade Me works closely with the Commerce Commission in this space and notes the Commission may hand out heavy fines for selling a non-compliant cot.
In 2013, the CYMRC released a special report on unintentional suffocation, foreign body inhalation and strangulation. Here’s a full copy of the report.
Safekids Aotearoa, the national injury prevention service of Starship Children’s Health, supports Safe Sleep Day. They provide parents with important product safety advice, specifically about cots, check them out!