The Dangers of Waterbeds for Young Children

Sadly, roughly 3,500 babies in the U.S. die suddenly and unexpectedly while sleeping, every year. In most cases, the death is due to sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) or occurs from accidents involving suffocation or strangulation. The latter is known to happen when a child sleeps on a waterbed.

Key takeaways:
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    Babies and young children should not sleep in waterbeds or any adult beds, but in their own bed.
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    Waterbeds can be deadly for young children. They have soft surfaces that take the shape of the body, and babies might roll over on their face and suffocate.
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    Age appropriate beds for babies and children, along with other recommendations, reduce the risk of accidents and injuries during sleep.

About waterbeds

Waterbeds became popular in the 1970s. Some people were attracted by the idea of sleeping on water, as the bed takes the shape of the body, reducing the pressure points. People with low back pain and individuals who were bedridden, injured, or undergoing some therapies were particularly interested in water beds However, the popularity of the water beds faded quickly, as these beds have serious disadvantages and can be dangerous to young children.

Waterbeds are not safe for babies or toddlers because young children may roll over on their face and suffocate.

Most waterbeds require electricity to get the water heated to a comfortable temperature. Otherwise, the water is too cold, making the bed uncomfortable to sleep in. This means an additional expense of the bed, and also a potential hazard for adults and children alike.

Waterbeds may leak and the water could spill out the mattress and damage the floor. For this reason, rental properties are not allowed to have waterbeds.

Unlike many regular beds, waterbeds are hard to move from one place to another. They require a special frame, the water must be drained, and need to be moved with special precautions to avoid punctures. Filling the bed with water is not easy either, and then the bed has to be heated to a temperature that is comfortable during sleep.

The dangers of adult beds for young children

Research studies show that suffocation and strangulation of young children can occur in various types of adult beds, including waterbeds.

Unlike adults, young children have limited physical and development capabilities, making them more susceptible to suffocation in some sleeping environments. Suffocation can occur from the wedging of a baby’s head between the mattress and other parts of the bed. As the child’s face presses against the mattress the mouth and the nose may be blocked, leading to suffocation.

If the child is trapped face down, they may be unable to lift their head to breathe because infants have weaker neck muscles compared with adults.

The major blood vessels of the neck are also vulnerable to compression. As little as two kilograms, or about four pounds, of pressure on the neck, can block the normal blood flow in these vessels, leading to loss of consciousness and even death. Pillows and other soft bedding materials are also unsafe for the baby.

Suffocation can also occur if the baby sleeps in bed with adults or another child, if they roll over onto the baby.

Bed safety tips for parents

  • Firm, flat sleep surfaces are best. As a general rule, any surface that inclines 10 degrees or more is considered unsafe for a baby to sleep on.
  • Use a crib, bassinet or play yard that has been evaluated and meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Use the CPSC site to see if your particular crib was not recalled, particularly if you bought it second hand.
  • The mattress has to be well fitted and designed for the crib you are using. Use a fitted sheet for the mattress.
  • Avoid any loose bedding, stuffed toys, soft objects, bumper pads or heavy blankets in the baby’s baby’s sleeping area. If a blanket is needed, choose a thin, lightweight one.
  • Use only cribs and beds that are marketed specifically for the age of your child, and never use broken beds or cribs that don’t come with instructions.
  • If your baby falls asleep in a car seat or stroller, try to place him or her on their back, on a firm sleep surface as soon as you can.
  • Practice room sharing, not bed sharing with parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends room sharing for the first six months of life, as it can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by up to 50%. It's easier to feed, comfort, and watch the baby, yet much safer than sharing the bed.
  • Babies and young children should not sleep on standard adult beds, water beds, air mattresses, couches or armchairs, as the baby can suffocate when sleeping on these surfaces.

It is extra important to not share the bed with a baby if the parent has had alcoholic drinks, used marijuana, or other medicines. Research shows that sleep-related death in babies is 10 times higher if they share the bed with someone who uses alcohol, drugs, or took medication that impairs their ability to wake up. Premature babies, babies who have a low birth weight, and those younger than four months of age are also at higher risks to die if they share a bed with adults.

The baby can be moved to a “big kid” or toddler bed when the crib railing is lower than their chest and therefore is easy for the child to get in and out of the bed. While there is no specific age guideline, this happens when the child is about three years old. These beds are suitable for children aged three to seven years. As the child grows older, he or she will need more space. A full-size mattress is appropriate for children when they are eight to 10 years old.

If you are going through financial difficulties, contact a local Social Service agency. They have numerous locations throughout the U.S. and can help provide low cost or even free safe, sleep surfaces for babies.


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