Parents beware: air mattresses are dangerous to infants

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They can mold to the infant’s face and obstruct breathing

Air mattresses, or inflatable beds, have become popular in recent years because they aren't expensive and easy to store. They're a nice alternative in a small apartment when overnight guests arrive.

But researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Georgia are warning parents these inflatable beds are not a substitute for a crib. Infants, they say, should not lie on them.

Writing in the American Journal of Public Health, the nursing and social work researchers say the inflatable beds, popular in low-income and transient households, can be fatal for babies.

“Even when fully inflated, air mattresses can mold to the infant’s face and obstruct the airway by forming an occlusive seal,” they write. “The risk increases when air mattresses leak during use. Under-inflation was a factor in some of the infant deaths reviewed.”

Official record may understate the threat

The official record, compiled by the National Child Death Review Case Reporting System, shows 108 infant deaths involving air mattresses between 2004 and 2015. But the researchers say that probably understates the real threat. They suggest a number of factors and limitations within the database could lead to under-reporting.

At the same time, government agencies and professional organizations aren't doing much to warn parents about the hazard, they contend. The research analyzed policy statements from 12 organizations and found just a single mention of an air mattress's potential danger to infants.

Other risky bedding options

And it might not just be inflatable beds that pose the risk. The researchers say bedding options like mattress toppers and mattresses with adjustable firmness are also problematic, presenting an unrecognized hazard.

The researchers say there needs to be changes in the way public health organizations communicate about bedding options, emphasizing the types of bedding that should, and should not be used for infants.

The message to young parents, they say, is inflatable beds should never be used as a crib.

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