DockATot Review: Not Recommended
First published: June 9, 2017. Last Updated: DockATot Review: Not Recommended. . Quick summary: We do not recommend the DockATot (and similar infant loungers like the Snuggle Me), based on safety concerns raised by government safety regulators and independent infant sleep researchers about infant sleep positioners.
Don’t have time to read this entire report? Here are 5 quick take-aways on the DockATot and why we don’t recommend it:
- The DockATot is a co-sleeper—a device designed for baby to sleep in while in an adult bed. According to infant sleep safety experts we interviewed, there are numerous and well-documented dangers to having an infant sleep in an adult bed—pillows, comforters, pets and other items can shift and pose a suffocation hazard to baby.
- DockATot’s social media regularly shows the product used ways we think are dangerous—in a hammock, in an adult bed surround by pets, siblings or soft bedding (pillows, comforters, etc). This is irresponsible, in our opinion . . . and is contradicted by DockATot’s own safety warnings about the product.
- DockATot’s safety instructions are confusing and impossible to follow, in our opinion. Adults must be “semi-alert” but not necessarily awake when using the DockATot for an infant. At the same time, DockATot warns “not to be used for unsupervised sleep.” It is unclear how any adult could be sound asleep AND simultaneously supervising an infant sleeping next to them in a DockATot.
- DockATot’s claims its product is tested for “air permeability” (as recently as 2017, the company claimed DockATot was “100% breathable”). But this test is based on a British safety standard that is over 40 years old and questionable in relevance to current research on infant sleep safety.
- Other infant sleep positioners have been implicated in product safety recalls that sadly involved infant deaths. While these positioners were somewhat different in design from the DockATot, misuse of sleep positioners in cribs and other sleep environments is a serious risk, in our opinion.
Bottom line: Don’t use a DockATot for co-sleeping. If you already own a DockATot, we would not use it for sleeping if your baby is under a year of age; other uses (such as diaper changing or tummy time) would be ok.
2018 update: We first published this review in June 2017. Since then, DockATot has changed some of its marketing claims and safety instructions. We will note below any 2018 updates to our review below!
This review looks at the DockATot’s safety and breathability claims, plus how the product is marketed to new parents. We will discuss our concerns about how the DockATot’s sides are like a crib bumper, and the DockATot’s safety instructions that require adult supervision during use—even when parents are asleep.
Then, we’ll look at the checkered history of infant sleep positioners, including the recent recall of an infant lounger that was responsible for five infant deaths earlier this decade. We’ll discuss how these products can become too successful at soothing infants, leading to possible parent misuse. Finally, we’ll examine concerns about possible suffocation when parents place products like the DockATot in adult beds with pillows, soft mattresses and the like.
What is the DockATot?
The DockATot is pitched as “a multi-functional lounging, playing, chilling, resting and snuggling dock for baby and tots 0-36 months.” Made in Europe, the DockATot comes in two sizes: Deluxe (for 0-9 months) and Grand (9-36 months). It sells for $160-$230 on sites like Target online, baby stores and other online sites.
Why is the DockATot so popular?
The DockATot has quickly gained a following in the US after it launched in 2015, with much buzz on parenting boards and blogs . . . including endorsements by celebrities like Michael Phelps and Kim Kardashian.
As one indication of the brand’s popularity on social media, DockATot’s Instagram following recently topped 340,000.
Fans of the DockATot say it is a “miracle worker” when it comes to newborns and sleep.
On Amazon, one parent wrote: “This little bed has saved our sanity! We were having such trouble finding something for LO to sleep in laying (sic) totally flat. He startles a lot and just kept waking himself up. Then we got our DockATot and it took two nights for him to get used to it and now we have no trouble getting him to sleep. As soon as he is 9 months old, we will have no problem spending the money on the larger version. This one was worth every penny!”
The DockATot stands out from other co-sleepers (cosleeper) for its luxe fabrics, designer prints, and premium pricing.
How we evaluated the DockATot
We purchased a DockATot at retail from Target.com. (FYI: We never take free product or monies from brands we review in order to maintain objectivity). After unboxing it, we evaluated the attached labels and safety warnings. Using an infrared thermometer and a heating blanket, we tested the company’s claims about not harboring heat.
Here’s a photo gallery of the DockATot and our unboxing:
The DockATot: What does it claim?
While the manufacturer of the DockATot is careful never to claim on its web site that babies can use it for sleeping (either in an adult bed or crib), the company clearly implies that it would be safe to do so on its social media in the US and Europe.
The DockATot makes two key claims about its safety and use:
- 100% breathable
In large letters, DockATot claims it is “100% Breathable, Complies with BS4578.”
What is BS4578? BS4578 is a British safety standard on pillows written in 1970—yes, 1970. Specifically, the standard is a “specification for methods of test for hardness of, and for air flow through, infants’ pillows.”
Here’s how DockATot described its safety testing in a post to their web page and a Facebook post in 2016:
“Did you know the DockATot has been safety tested beyond any other baby sleeping product on the market?
Both mattress pad and bumper have great air-permeability and comply with BS4578. BS4578 is the result of an objective to produce a British Standard specification for a pillow which can confidently be used in cots [cribs], perambulators [strollers] etc.
The BSI Committee for Nursery Bedding has tried to consult anyone who may be able to contribute to the solution of the problem of a British Standard safe pillow, and the inquiries have included consultation with physiologists about the breathing of young children (quantity and rate flow of air, psychological and other effects if air flow becomes restricted, etc.). The test is designed to replicate a baby placing its mouth on/against an item, and measures how easily it can breathe through the item. It measures the pressure (in mmH2O) required to allow 12 liters of air per minute through the item (which is how much a baby typically breaths).
The sides of DockATot DELUXE as well as the GRAND, which are in close proximity to the baby’s face, allow for relative easy breathing and comply with the requirements of BS4578. The same goes for the base (the mattress incl. its protective cover). Even if a baby’s mouth and nose are covered by the bumper (which anyways is impossible due to the firmness of the filling), or facing straight down (which a baby doesn’t do by itself) – an infant can still breathe with relative ease (as per the test compliance).”
DockATot’s claim that it is “safety tested beyond any other baby sleeping product on the market” is impossible to prove or disprove—this grandiose statement aims to comfort parents, but it is meaningless.
Our opinion: research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has progressed quite a bit since 1970. Numerous more recent studies show a correlation between SIDS and soft bedding like pillows, crib bumpers and the like. Citing a 47-year old British pillow safety standard to declare your 2017 sleep positioner safe is questionable, in our opinion.
Most importantly, the U.S. does not have a “breathability” safety standard for infant sleep devices—infant sleep safety advocates do not believe they are safe in any form. Complying with a British safety standard does not mean the product is safe for US parents to use. The ONLY government certified safe sleep environments in the US are cribs, mini cribs and bassinets that meet federal standards.
2018 update: DockATot has dropped the 100% breathable claim. Now the company says only “DockATot has completed all appropriate tests.” On a revised safety page, there is still a reference to the British safety standard we discuss above.
- DockATot is an in-bed co-sleeper
An in-bed co-sleeper is designed as a place for a baby to sleep in an adult bed.
DockATot’s US web site plays down the concept of co-sleeping; here is a graphic of uses from the DockATot’s web site:
DockATot’s pitch to parents is more as a multi-functional infant support pillow for tummy time, diaper changes, playing, etc. “Resting” is only mentioned in passing. And “resting” isn’t technically overnight sleeping or napping, of course.
Yet when we asked DockATot spokesperson Elina Furland if the DockATot is an “infant sleep positioner,” she replied: “We are a baby lounger/co sleeper.”
Indeed, DockATot’s social media certainly show it used as an in-bed co-sleeper, with numerous pictures showing the DockATot in an adult bed, with sleeping adults near by. Check out some examples in the slideshow below;
DockATot’s social media is full of pictures of adults co-sleeping with babies in an adult beds, despite the company downplaying the co-sleeping aspect on their web site.
DockATot has even posted shots of babies in DockATots in clearly questionable sleep environments—like a hammock:
Given warnings about bed sharing by the American Academy of Pediatrics and past deaths linked to infant loungers, it would be understandable why DockATot would soft pedal the co-sleeping aspect of the product—at least on its web site. But given the dominance of social media, it is very possible parents would learn first about the DockATot from Facebook and Instagram . . . and miss the company’s safety FAQ’s on their web site, in our opinion.
Of course, the DockATot isn’t the only co-sleeper/infant lounger on the market. The Snuggle Me, Snuggle Nest and Summer Infant By Your Side are other examples.
However, there’s no ambiguity about the DockATot when you look at their European web site, easily seen by US parents. (Update July 2017: DockATot has blocked access to its European web site from US-based IP addresses, as a result of our reporting).
This a graphic from DockATot’s European web site that calls out co-sleeping—note the child is pictured in a DockATot INSIDE a crib, which the company warns US parents never to do.
DockATot’s inventor: an “unapologetic co-sleeper”
Invented by Swedish entrepreneur and co-sleeping advocate Lisa Furuland, the DockATot first debuted in Sweden in 2006 as the “SleepyHead” from Furuland’s company, Enfant Terrible. The company is based in Norrtälje, Sweden. The DockATot is manufactured in Estonia with fabrics from Portugal.
FYI: The DockATot and the Sleepyhead are the exact same product. The DockATot is the brand name used in the US, Canada and Mexico. Sleepyhead is the name used worldwide.
On the Sleepyhead English language web site, Furuland cited the inspiration for the product as a desire to find a “multi-functional” baby bed in one piece:
“I searched unsuccessfully for an alternative to the blanket, the cot (crib) and the baby lounger, something more snug and at the same time more versatile.”
In an interview with BABY BARGAINS at a recent trade show, Furuland describes herself as an “unapologetic” co-sleeper. She said that many parents in the US and elsewhere are co-sleeping with their baby in an adult bed—and her goal was to make it safer.
Yes, co-sleeping is a controversial topic in parenting circles. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend the practice, which is more common in non-Western cultures. (For the record, the AAP encourages parents to share a ROOM with their newborn to encourage breastfeeding, but not share a BED).
Despite this, co-sleeping is “surprisingly common in early infancy,” said a 2016 New York Times article about a recent study on co-sleeping in the US:
Nearly 75 percent of the parents co-slept with infants early on, and about half were still co-sleeping three months after the birth. But once the babies reached 6 months of age, only one in four babies continued to share a bed or a room with their parents.
The debate about whether co-sleeping is good or bad is beyond the scope of this review—but folks are doing it . . . especially in those early months (birth to six months) when the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is at its peak.
So are companies like DockATot and Snuggle Me just responding to a market need? After all babies like snug places when they sleep (hence the popularity of swaddling). Yes, but what does the evidence about sleep positioners say about their safety? Read on.
Crib bumpers have been associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. So does the DockATot function like a crib bumper? DockATot’s UK-facing web site (see FAQ #4: Can I use the Sleepyhead in a crib or cot?) says it is a crib bumper:
Please note that soft objects such as pillows, quilts and stuffed toys should not be kept in the Sleepyhead®. Also, make sure not to use plush non-breathable crib bumpers. With Sleepyhead®, crib bumpers are in fact redundant, as the protective sides of the Sleepyhead® prevent the babies extremities from getting caught between the slats of the crib. (emphasis added)
(Update July 2017: DockATot has blocked access to their UK web site from U.S.-based IP addresses in response our reporting).
And when we inspected the DockATot first hand, we noticed its safety tag refers to the sides as a bumper. In a detailed blog post on cleaning, DockATot itself refers to the sides of the product as a “bumper tube.”
As a result, Maryland and Ohio (as well as cities like Chicago) have banned the sale of crib bumpers. Yet as of this writing, the DockATot is sold in these cities and states.
While DockATot’s US web site says to NOT place the DockATot in a crib, there are many images out there on social media with a DockATot/Sleepyhead in a crib—this one is on DockATot’s UK ecommerce web site (which is still active for US-facing customers to see):
Semi-alert? But asleep?
The DockATot says it should be used in a sleep environment that is supervised by an adult. Here’s the specific quote on their web site:
The DockATot Deluxe should not be used for unsupervised sleep (emphasis ours). A supervised environment is one in which a semi-alert, non-inebriated adult is co-sleeping next to baby. Adult does not need to be awake next to baby.
Let’s unpack that for a moment. How do you supervise baby while you’re sleeping, exactly? How can you be semi-alert yet asleep?
The whole point of putting baby in a crib or bassinet that meets current safety standards is baby can sleep UNSUPERVISED. That is, an adult (alert or not) doesn’t need to be standing nearby at all times to make sure baby is safe.
If a baby wakes up in her crib and rolls over, then odds are, everything would be fine (assuming there is no soft bedding, bumpers, stuffed animals, etc. in the crib).
Yet if a baby in a DockATot or other co-sleeper wakes up and rolls over, what happens if they wedge themselves next to the “bolsters” that even DockATot says function like crib bumpers? How can an adult be deep in sleep and also supervise a baby in a DockATot?
Remember that babies can roll over as soon as two months (source: Denver Developmental Checklist). And 90% of SIDS deaths occur in the first six months of life.
That’s what prompted the 2010 CPSC and FDA warning about sleep positioners—putting bolsters, crib bumpers and other devices next to a sleeping baby is dangerous, say government safety regulators.
Never put the DockATot an elevated or soft surface?
DockATot’s safety warning label on the product warns to use it only on a “flat, firm stable surface.”
DockATot’s web site adds this caveat to “never on an elevated surface.” But isn’t an adult bed the definition of an elevated surface that is far from firm or flat?
DockATot’s co-sleeping safety FAQ also includes these warnings:
- Do not allow infants to co-sleep with another toddler or child
- Do not allow pets in the bed
- Remove excessive bedding, including thick mattress padding and pillows.
Unfortunately, these warnings don’t appear in the products safety label or tag. Plus as you can see from above gallery, DockATot’s social media features images of infants sleeping with another toddler in the same adult bed.
2018 update: Apparently, the folks who run DockATot’s social media still didn’t get the company memo on the “no pets” and “no siblings” rules. Here’s a post from January 2018 on DockATot’s Instagram feed:
Yes, that is a pet in bed with a DockATot, not to mention “excessive bedding”—throw pillows, thick comforter, etc. The risk here is obvious: that semi-alert dad (or is he sound asleep) knocks a pillow or shifts the comforter in top of baby.
And speaking of showing the DockATot being used in a questionable manner, check out this October 2016 Instagram post by DockATot:
What could possibly go wrong there?
Can the DockATot be used in a crib? It depends on where you are.
On their US-facing web site, DockATot says it should not be used in a crib:
DockATot is not for use in the crib, due to the guidelines put out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. All materials have been rigorously tested for breathability and air permeability, but we cannot recommend it for use in the crib.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, DockATot’s European (the Sleepyhead) web site says the EXACT OPPOSITE about using the product in a crib:
Yes, Sleepyhead® Deluxe and Grand can be used in cribs or bassinets (emphasis ours). … Some parents prefer not to co-sleep. Most cots and cribs are not snug enough for the newborn. By slipping Sleepyhead® in as an insert, the baby sleeps snug and safe.
Yet, back in the US, DockATot’s FAQ warns about the risks of using the same product in a crib:
We put safety first. There have been incidents where babies have suffocated after becoming entrapped between a soft product and the side of a crib, bassinet, wall, or other surface, and also incidents where babies have suffocated on soft bedding like blankets or soft toys. This is why we warn against using a DockATot in a crib, bassinet or other contained area, and warn that blankets and pillows should not be placed in the DockATot. When it comes to an infant’s resting environment, bare is best!
Same product—two opposite messages when it comes to using it it in a crib or bassinet.
Even with DockATot’s warning about using it in a crib in the US, there is ample evidence this is being ignored: witness this review of the DockATot on TheBump.com: “The DockATot looked like the perfect solution to create a cozy sleeping space inside the crib,” says the detailed review on the site. The writer adds the caveat that “DockATot is designed as a co-sleeper and lounger and isn’t meant for inside the crib—but we wanted a safe place for our baby outside of our bed where we thought he and we could both get a better night’s sleep.”
Dangerous Precedent? The Story of the Nap Nanny
The danger of using a product like the DockATot in a crib or bassinet reminds us of another infant lounger from five years ago: the Nap Nanny. (Tip of the hat to Kids in Danger for pointing out the parallels).
Five babies died from 2009 to 2013 after using the “infant lounger,” prompting a recall from the CPSC. The company that made it went out of business.
The deaths happened when babies were put in a Nap Nanny, which was then put in a crib—despite warnings from the manufacturer to never use the product in a crib. Babies fell out of the Nap Nanny and suffocated between the product and the crib mattress.
In addition to the five deaths, there were 92 reports of injuries to infants who fell over the sides.
The Nap Nanny is clearly designed differently than the DockATot and its similar competitors. But the concept was basically the same: a comfortable space for baby to lounge and nap. (Read more on the Nap Nanny history here.)
The Nap Nanny lessons: even when you warn parents about putting sleep positioners in a crib, the product can still end up in a dangerous place. For example, we’ve seen online discussions where parents talk about putting the DockATot in a crib (example: this one from BabyCenter in Canada). And as mentioned above, even reviewers on mainstream sites like TheBump are ignoring the warning and using a DockATot in a crib.
Infant sleep products can be too successful
Here’s another reason why using an infant sleep positioner is dangerous: newborns can get addicted to them (and parents too).
To understand why, let’s look at how infants sleep. Here’s the simple explanation: From newborn to about four months of age, babies are incapable of soothing themselves—whether to go to sleep, to get back to sleep when awakened, etc.
These young newborns love womb-like experiences—swaddle blankets, baby bouncers that vibrate, snug baby carriers, etc. Hence, the popularity of products like the Fisher Price Rock N Play sleeper.
But something happens around four months of age. Babies become AWARE of their sleep environment. Hence when you put a baby about that age down to sleep in a DockATot or Rock N Play sleeper, they remember it . . . and can grow very attached to it.
Now let’s imagine that a parent is transitioning a four or five month old baby from co-sleeping in an adult bed to a solitary space like a crib. If he is used to being cocooned in a DockATot, baby may protest when put down in a crib without it—especially a baby who is older than four or five months age.
And when we say “protest,” we’re being charitable. We can understand why parents desperate for a decent night sleep would let a four month old use the DockATot . . . but now inside a crib, instead of a parent’s bed.
And that’s where the Nap Nanny and other “infant loungers” got into trouble. Despite explicit warnings about not using the product in a crib, parents did it anyway.
That’s the problem with infant sleep positioners and loungers—they can become too successful at soothing a baby. And that can lead to a very dangerous situation.
What’s the best bassinet for baby? Read about our pick for Best Bassinet for 2017 here.
Is the DockATot an infant sleep positioner?
In 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Federal Drug Administration warned parents not to use “infant sleep positioners” because they pose a suffocation risk.
“Over the past 13 years, the CPSC and the FDA have received 12 reports of infants between the ages of one month and four months who died when they suffocated in sleep positioners or became trapped and suffocated between a sleep positioner and the side of a crib or bassinet.”
In addition the CPSC said sleep positioners are dangerous because baby can suddenly role from a back position to their side or stomach—and suffocate as a result:
Most of the infants suffocated after rolling from a side to stomach position. In addition to the reported deaths, CPSC has received dozens of reports of infants who were placed on their backs or sides in sleep positioners, only to be found later in potentially hazardous positions within or next to the sleep positioners.
“The deaths and dangerous situations resulting from the use of infant sleep positioners are a serious concern to CPSC,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. “We urge parents and caregivers to take our warning seriously and stop using these sleep positioners, so that children can have a safer sleep.”
The CPSC described sleep positioners as “flat mats with side bolsters or inclined (wedge) mats with side bolsters.”
Here’s the bottom line: Using an infant sleep positioner is dangerous and unnecessary.
And that’s our concern with the DockATot: the company has clearly marketed it as a sleep positioner, such as this page on Amazon:
We asked the company for a comment on this. DockATot spokesperson Elina Furman wrote back: “I am not sure who wrote up the product description on Amazon but we strictly market (it) as a baby lounger and cosleeper which we are approved for.”
(Update July 2017: The page on Amazon we referenced has dropped reference to the DockATot as a sleep positioner).
We also emailed the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ask if they consider the DockATot an infant sleep positioner, but have not heard a reply as of this writing.
Update August 2017: Health Canada issues an alert about “baby nests or pods” (describing in-bed co-sleepers that are like the DockATot) citing a suffocation risk to babies.
The DockATot is only as breathable as the bed you put it on
We purchased a DockATot from Target.com and shipped it to Dr. Rachel Y. Moon, a renowned infant sleep safety expert who wrote the most recent American Academy of Pediatrics infant sleep guidelines.
Dr. Moon evaluated the DockATot at our request and pointed out the base surface of the DockATot is quite thin. So while the DockATot’s “breathability” claim may be true, how safe it is could be entirely dependant on the underlying sleep surface—that is the mattress on an adult bed.
And that’s where there could be trouble—if you sleep on a futon mattress or a mattress with a pillow topper, the underlying surface for the DockATot could be a safety hazard.
“I am quite concerned about the padding all around the edges. If the child was on a firm surface, it may be unlikely for the baby who turned to the side to have his/her face pressed against the side. However, if the child was on a soft surface, there is potential for the baby’s body to sag below the level of the side – and make it more of a suffocation hazard,” said Dr. Moon, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
To test this concept, we added a 20 lb. weight to our sample DockATot to simulate a 9 month infant—the DockATot was sitting on a hardwood floor. The DockATot has a sling-like bottom—when empty, it measures about 2.5″ deep:
When we added the weight, the distance was now 3.5″, as the weight depressed the surface.
So even on a hard surface, a baby would sink about an inch deeper into the DockATot. Yes, the company warns to always use the DockATot on a “firm, flat surface” on its safety label. But most adult beds would never meet that definition, in our opinion.
We should caveat that this hazard is theoretical. We have not found any cases of an infant suffocating in a DockATot (including a search of SaferProducts.gov), although other in-bed co-sleepers have been implicated in suffocation deaths, such as this 2016 story from Australia.
So let’s sum up our concerns about the DockATot:
- In our opinion, the DockATot is an infant sleep positioner that could be hazardous when used for sleeping, given the company’s own claims about functioning like a crib bumper. The CPSC and AAP recommends against using sleep positioners and bumpers in an infant’s sleep environment.
- The DockATot’s safety advice, use instructions and tips don’t square with reality, in our opinion. Example: DockATot’s warning that parents must supervise their sleeping child in a DockATot at all times, even if the parent themselves are asleep.
The Take Home Message: Don’t use a DockATot or any other in-bed co-sleeper.
We do not recommend the DockATot (also referred to as a Dock A Tot and Docatot) based on safety concerns raised by government safety regulators and independent infant sleep researchers about infant sleep positioners. The DockATot’s design and use instructions as a co-sleeper (cosleeper) also concern us. If you already own one, we’d recommend stop using it for naps or overnight sleep (the DockATot’s other uses for tummy time and diaper changing are fine).
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