Bumbo Recall Shows Growth of Safety Standards

Recalls can be inconvenient and costly, but they also keep children safe.

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Like thousands of parents this week, I was surprised to hear that the popular Bumbo baby seats were being recalled. The sitting-aid was a favorite device of my daughter’s when she was younger, before she could sit up on her own. I’d heard grumblings on parenting boards before that they weren’t safe for babies, since they could topple out of them, especially if placed on a table, but I figured that if they stayed on the floor, the danger was minimal. This week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined otherwise.

The CPSC announced that even when placed on the floor, babies can fall out of the seats and injure themselves. (A previous recall in 2007 specified that the seats were not safe when placed on a counter or table.) The dangers are serious and include skull fractures. As a result, over 4 million seats were recalled. The company is providing free repair kits, which includes a restraint belt.

The recall falls on the same week of the four-year anniversary of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which beefed up the powers of the CPSC, enabling it to issue the kind of recall it put out on the Bumbo. Consumer advocates say children and baby products are far safer as a result, and as inconvenient as the “safety first” mantra can be, it’s also essential for children’s well-being.

I first discovered the world of recalls when I became a parent about three years ago. Shortly after my daughter was born, I started paying attention to the evening news when it announced recalls of drop-side cribs, strollers, infant sleep positioners, and infant slings. I quickly realized that I had to keep track of the ins and outs of product safety, because no one was going to do it for me. In fact, I found sleep positioners still listed as an essential “must-have” item on a major retailer’s recommended shopping list for new parents long after they had been recalled.

I learned that I had been using at least three recalled products, including an older model of the Maclaren stroller, a mesh sleep positioner, and a drop-side crib. As painful as it was, I tossed out the $600 hand-me-down drop-side crib, which had since been determined to post a suffocation and entrapment risk to infants, and replaced it with a safer (and cheaper) model. (Thanks to the CPSC, drop-side cribs are no longer allowed to be made or sold in the United States.)

When you get a handful of recalls in your inbox each week, it’s easy to feel recall fatigue and to start ignoring the potential dangers. In fact, when I brought up a recent stroller recall with a neighbor, he rolled his eyes and said he doesn’t pay any attention to recalls anymore. But recalls, even when they are voluminous, help remind us of just how dangerous popular products can be. They’re not issued unless the agency issuing the recall has found evidence of harm caused by the product. That’s why I read every recall noticed I receive—and stop using any recalled products immediately.

Here are four ways to combat any recall fatigue you might be feeling:

1. Make it easy for yourself: Sign up for alerts at www.cpsc.gov or recalls.gov; that way you’ll get news of any recalls delivered right to your mailbox and you don’t have to worry about following the news. Websites such as wemakeitsafer.com can also help. If you’re not sure whether you own a product being recalled, then the CPSC’s toll-free hotline, 1-800-638-2772, can help. I’ve used it myself and found it to be efficient and useful.

2. If you find out that you do, in fact, own a recalled product, check with the company to see if a replacement or fix kit is being offered. In the case of Nap Nanny, for example, the company is providing $80 coupons for consumers to purchase new products. With many of the drop-side cribs, companies offered free kits to immobilize the drop-side.

3. If you are still concerned about safety, then get rid of the defective product. Babies don’t “need” Bumbos, as enjoyable as they are to use.

4. In general, be wary of secondhand car seats, cribs, strollers, high chairs, and other children’s products where safety is of utmost importance. Safety standards change frequently, so buying new, or at least making sure you’re not inheriting an older, recalled product, is the way to go.

Parents, how do you handle recalls?

Twitter: @alphaconsumer