Update April 2019: The Consumer Product Safety Commission has RECALLED all Rock N Plays because of infant deaths! If you have one already, please stop using it.
This comes on the heels earlier this month of the government’s previous warning to stop use of the product by three months of age, or as soon as an infant exhibits rollover capabilities. 10 deaths have been attributed to this product since 2015!
We first warned our readers of this product back in 2016—here is an archive of our work and research:
Last Updated: First Published: June 6, 2016. .Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper: Miracle soother . . . or dangerous crutch? The Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper is dangerous, in our opinion. In this article, we will lay out the case for why you shouldn’t use an inclined sleep product like this.
But first, a bit of history—and how Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper got so popular.
The Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper is the ever-popular inclined sleeper, thanks in part to reality TV. Most recently, the Rock ‘n Play starred on TLC’s new reality show OutDaughtered. A recent episode featured their five baby girls sleeping in a row of—you guessed it—Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleepers:
As a result of this and other publicity, this Fisher Price sleeper is reaching cult status—women are whispering about it in the aisles of baby stores, calling it a “miracle worker” that enables babies to sleep. And the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play occupies most of the best-seller list in Amazon’s “bouncer” category.
At the same time, several pediatricians have taken to blogs to denounce the bouncer, calling it dangerous, a possible risk for SIDS among other maladies. Most seriously, according to a November 2018 article in the Wall Street Journal, inclined sleepers like the Rock ‘N Play have been implicated in 30 deaths and 700 injuries since 2005.
So what exactly is the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper? And why is it controversial?
The Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper’s pitch: “great for overnight sleep”?
The Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper debuted in 2009 and is billed as an “inclined sleeper.” Baby is placed inside the sleeper, which has deep side walls to keep a baby snug. Fisher-Price touts the sleeper as “great for overnight sleep” (on its box) and “the inclined seat helps baby sleep all night long” (on FP’s web site).
The instructions for the Rock ‘n Play sleeper list a 25 lb. weight limit. The average (50% percentile) boy reaches 25 lbs. around 21 months of age. For girls, that same figure is 23 months.
The popularity of this product has lead Fisher-Price to release 36 different versions of the Rock ‘n Play. While the basic Rock ‘n Play has a soothing vibration feature, it must be manually rocked. Fisher-Price addressed that by adding a version called “Auto Rock ‘n Play“—an auto-rocking function with two speeds. There is also a “deluxe” version of this sleeper with plusher padding and an additional toy. Most of the other versions of the Rock N Play sleeper are variations in color and padding. The retail price for this product is between $50-$95.
There’s an even a version of the Rock ‘n Play that is smartphone-enabled (SmartConnect). You can remotely trigger the rocking, vibrations or other features via your smartphone.
Full disclosure: we did write about the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play in the latest version of our book, Baby Bargains. While we did not do a full review of the product, we did note our readers generally liked it.
So what’s all the fuss about? The Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play’s secret sauce is the cocooned sleep space. Babies (especially newborns) love it—and that’s where the controversy begins.
Controversy: Does the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play cause SIDS? Flat heads? Bad sleep habits?
Kansas City pediatrician Natasha Burgert wrote an excellent blog post on this subject, detailing the myriad of concerns about the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper. (We know Dr. Burgert through our co-author, Dr. Ari Brown of the Baby 411 series—Dr. Brown thinks highly of Dr. Burgert).
Dr. Burgert’s concerns can be summed up as three key points:
1. The Rock n’ Play Sleeper is not a safe place for overnight or unobserved infant sleep.
The problem: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a firm sleep surface with no soft padding or bedding items. This is to lower the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
On that score, the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play fails—it is not a flat surface (but a curved, sling seat). And Fisher Price touts the padding (infant head support, body padding) for this sleeper. The problem: padding can shift, causing the baby to get caught between the padding and the side of the sleeper. In fact, Fisher-Price even notes this risk for SIDS in their instructions:
Yet at the same time, Fisher-Price touts this sleeper for overnight sleep:
So you can see the obvious conflict: how can you use the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper for overnight sleep when you as a parent as supposed to watch for infants getting stuck between the pad and the side of the product? And isn’t a “plush body insert and head support” that comes with the deluxe version of this sleeper the very definition of soft bedding to avoid?
Yes, Fisher Price notes that the Rock ‘n Play has “breathable mesh” sides—but the body support pillows and headrest either cover the sides or can easily shift.
The risk here is not theoretical, as this 2018 report from a mother of a six-month old infant stated:
My 6 month old son was put down for a nap in the Fisher Price Rock n Play. During the time of his nap, he rolled over in the Rock N Play and silently died.
My son was a beautiful, healthy baby and only died because of the Rock N Play and the false sense of security they provide with their false and UNSAFE claims of the Rock N Play being used for safe sleep. The only place for safe sleep for an infant is a flat surface. This death trap needs to be recalled and labeled as a SUPERVISED PLAY PRODUCT so no other family has to lose their child like I have.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using inclined sleepers. The Wall Street Journal writes:
The AAP says any inclined sleeper can make it more difficult for an infant to breathe—either because of the position of the head or a baby’s face getting pushed against the fabric. It says straps don’t help this problem and could strangle an infant.
The Journal notes that Canada has banned inclined sleepers that have over a 7-degree angle—much less than 30-degree angle built-in to the inclined sleepers sold in the US.
It is possible that safety regulators might warn parents that they should discontinue the use of sleepers like the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play once a baby rolls over. The problem: it’s impossible to predict when that would happen.
2. Flat head syndrome and other deformities.
The Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play has been implicated in cases of flat head syndrome or plagiocephaly. Because folks use this product for months, babies sleep in the same position night after night. And because infants can’t freely move their heads or bodies around in this sleeper, two problems can result: flat head syndrome and torticollis, or a twisted neck.
These complaints have been seen both anecdotally in Amazon reviews and formally in complaints to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Here is one from April 2016:
My son has been diagnosed with “Right Torticollis” and “Mild positional plagiocephaly” (after using this product). He now has to have physical therapy to fix the tightening of his neck muscles on his right side. The physical therapist said that this is due to the way that gravity pulls the heavy infant head down while sleeping in the Fisher Price Rock & Play. He now favors turning his head to one side due to the tightening of the muscles and thus has developed a mild flat spot on the back-right side of his skull.My first son also used the Fisher Price Rock & Play sleeper and had SEVERE Brachycephaly; he had to have a helmet to correct the shape of his head from this.I had no idea at the time that the Rock & Play could cause Brachycephaly, plagiocephaly and torticollis or I would NEVER have used it for either son. We ended up paying $1,200 AFTER 80% insurance coverage of my first son’s helmet.FIsher Price should not market this Rock & Play as a safe infant sleeper due to the extensive medical issues that it can and does cause. I know that I am not alone in my frustration with this product-please see other reviews from Amazon and other verified retailers.
Fisher Price seems to recognize the problem by spending an entire page (page 6) of the instruction manual warning parents about this problem. One of their tips says:
Help your baby avoid resting his head in the same position all the time by frequently changing the direction he lies in the crib.
That is true—but the opposite of what the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play does!
3. Bad sleep habits.
If you’ve read our Baby 411 book, you know that babies establish sleep patterns around four months of age—this includes the ability to self soothe and general sleep environment preferences.
And that’s the problem with the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play sleeper: because the company has a 25 lb. weight limit on it, parents use it for many weeks beyond that four month window. Remember above we pointed out the average girl newborn doesn’t reach 25 lbs. until 23 months of age.
“The problem is that parents don’t want to stop using it—it works, baby sleeps, parent sleeps—why potentially ruin a good thing? Babies need room to spread out and move around as they get older . . . 2 months and up,” says Dr. Ari Brown, co-author of Baby 411. Dr Brown recommends discontinuing use of products like the Rock ‘n Play sleeper around two months. But parents who use it longer point to Fisher Pricer’s stated 25 lb. weight limit for the Rock ‘n Play.
And good luck trying to break the sleep habits of an older baby in a Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play—Dr. Burgert of Kansas City says moving an older baby out of the FP sleeper to a crib can be difficult: “Families are suffering from many sleepless nights while their older infant re-learns how to sleep, on their backs, in their long-term sleep environment.”
In other words, the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play helps a fussy newborn get to sleep . . . but you’ll pay for that later if you continue use beyond four months!
The Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play sleeper has a series mold problem, which prompted a recall of the 800,000 units back in 2013 after 600 reports from users. Yet complaints about this issue persist into 2016: see this report filed with the CPSC.
Why is this happening? Well, diapers leak. And that moisture gets trapped behind the pad and seat. Here’s what the result looks like:
This is obviously a serious health hazard. Yes, Fisher-Price includes detailed cleaning recommendations and instructions for this sleeper. But the persistent reports of mold indicate to us an inherent design defect, in our opinion.
Fisher-Price recommends washing this product EVERY time it gets soiled—but parents may miss a leaking diaper if the moisture gets trapped between the pad and seat liner (where the top padding is dry by morning).
Rock ‘N Play alternatives
So if we don’t recommend the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play, what are the alternatives for short-term use—such as taking a shower or cooking a meal? In that case, we’d recommend the use of a baby bouncer. We have an in-depth look at the best bouncers here.
We still would NOT recommend a bouncer for sleep or naps. If your baby falls asleep in a bouncer, we suggest moving them to a safe sleep space: crib or bassinet.
Bottom line: we do NOT recommend the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper.
Given the real health risks (some of which have been documented in numerous formal complaints filed with safety regulators), we can not recommend the Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play sleeper. In general, we only recommend bouncers/swings for brief use for soothing, but not for overnight sleep. If you already have one of these sleepers, we strongly recommend discontinuing use after two months of age. And clean it frequently to make sure mold or mildew doesn’t show up.
According to an August 21 2018 letter from the CPSC to Congress, the CPSC is considering rules that may further regulate or even ban the sale of inclined sleepers. Bottom line: don’t use an inclined sleeper like the Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play.
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Sometimes, I laugh when I read things like this. I understand the intent, but it’s the broad disconnect between the experts and those in the industry with mothers who are currently struggling with babies with commonly experienced sleep issues. Also, there is a huge overemphasis on the sleep environment in the occurrence of SIDS – finally, research is catching up with the fact that most babies who die of SIDS often have certain genetic issues and conditions that put them at substantial risk (when the risk is negligible in the average infant). In addition, I can’t help but wonder if many with children with head shape deformities or neck issues kept their child in this an exorbitant amount of time, rather than just as an overnight sleeper (and if you stop using it by 3-4 months, you should be feeding your child at least a couple times through the night still, so I’m not getting why children are frozen in one position for hours). I’m a maternal and child health epidemiologist myself, so I get the purpose of pushing data and research, but advocating so strongly against this, as many sites do, pushes parents who are desperate for sleep (and for whom the crib and pack and play just do not work) to try more unsafe alternatives (like falling asleep with the baby on them or co-sleeping in bed. We need to start being more realistic with our advice.
Hi Christina: Thanks for that feedback. Good points—there is an ongoing tension between pediatricians/SIDS researchers and the real world of parenting. Our concerns about SIDS risk, mold and bad sleep habits are why we wrote this post. In a parenting world of blogs and other paid-for social media “reviews,” our goal is provide some balance. Thanks again!
I could not agree more. My twins would not sleep in their bassinets. Moreover they both had reflux and spit up, which was zero when I used the rock n play. What is the risk of death from aspirating spit up? I would think it is higher than SIDS risk, and that aspiration is more likely when lying flat. When I was pregnant I almost died a couple times from aspirating into my lungs, but it was easier when I was in a more reclined position with lots of pillows. My grandfather aspirated into his lungs, which got infected and this is what he died from. So why should I be less worried about spitting up and reflux than SIDS? What are the relatuve risks does anyone even check that? Fatally choking on vomit may be more stastically likely than SIDS. Also I clean the rock n play weekly in the washer and use vinegar on the plastic underpart so mold isn’t an issue. The minimum acceptable SIDS risk is not zero, just as the minimum acceptable risk of anything else. People have utility for a product that delivers sound sleep, and this has societal value. It is not the government’s business to interfere excessively, but to strike a balance. Should we ban childhood sports because they are risky? No, because there is utility in exercise and teamwork, and the minimum acceptable risk is not zero.
AGREED 100 TIMES OVER!!
I’m not entirely sure when this article was written but I disagree with the idea that these concerns are deal breakers. We have used the deluxe auto rock n play since birth with our son who is now 6 months. For the first 4 or so months of his life he slept in this rocker exclusively. We did not transition him to his crib until about that 4 month mark. And we still occasionly use the rocker for naps or if he’s having a particularly rough night and won’t sleep in his crib. At this point he cannot yet sit up on his own (he can sit up if placed in that position but can’t quite get there on his own yet), but he can be very squirmy so we never use the rocker now without supervision, but we do still use it (and he’s small for his age, at about 16 lbs). He has never had any problems with his head shape. In fact the doctor has commented on how nicely his head is shaped several times. Our ped also knew he slept over night in the rocker and was completely fine with it. The extra padding is very minimal, does not cover the vents on the side, and is actually sewn onto the cover on the rocker (which is securely attached to the rocker itself with clips and Velcro in several places), so very little, if any, risk of suffocation. As far as SIDS goes, a simple crib sheet and/or mattress protector (which most people use) pose the same risks if not used properly. Also flat heads can happen just as easily for newborns in cribs who dont yet have the ability to move around much. For the mold issue, I believe that is purely an issue of the seat not being washed properly and regularly. Our son has severe acid reflux and spit up several times after every single feeding. All we had to do was take the cover off and throw it in the wash. The base has a plastic shell which can easily be wiped down with soap and water or any other kind of baby safe cleaner. While all of these issues could certainly be a concern, proper use of the product (as with anything), will minimize or even eliminate all of these concerns. In my opinion, this is a great product and was very helpful for us and our little one 🙂
Thanks for sharing that experience—glad it worked out for you. Good points. Our main concern is people NOT transitioning out of the FP Rock and Play into a crib; occasional use is fine! Sounds like you struck the right balance.
I used it with my 2nd baby on occasion, but never started the night with him in it because I wanted to get him used to a flat surface. I’d move the RNP right next to my side of the bed if he kept waking and I was just too tired. I also used a Snuza monitor on him when he was in it and I never left it “running” while I was sleeping. I also made sure to not use blankets or swaddle in it and made sure he was buckled correctly… I also didn’t by the deluxe – so there was no extra padding. I didn’t want a crutch, I wanted to make sure he was safe, but I knew I needed to be rested as well. We were fully transitioned out of it by around 8-10 weeks. By that time, he was used to being put down on his back and would sleep for a solid 6-8 hours. I never felt like it was 100% safe, but I think we used it safely.
We would agree—that would be the correct way to use it! Thanks for sharing that story.
I won’t deny that some of these concerns are warranted, however, it’s hard to follow and agree with an article discussing safe sleep that doesn’t even understand what SIDS is. SIDS is not suffocation. Sadly, the 2 have been used interchangeably over the years, and it’s not doing any one any favors. The Rock N Play does not have a SIDS warning, it has a suffocation warning, two very different things. There is no way to prevent SIDS. There is a very clear way to prevent suffocation. I love that you are providing the knowledge to be cautious while using these, as much as you would with any other sleeping device…But PLEASE be careful using scare tactics to make parents think they can cause/prevent SIDs with one of these devices. Medical issues vs Safety issues, please keep them separate.
Good points. We have a detailed discussion of SIDS (causes, risk factors, etc) in our Baby 411 and Baby Bargains books. In a nutshell, SIDS has several causes—one of which can be suffocation in soft bedding. Others SIDS deaths are unexplained.
I believe SIDS by definition is unexplained infant death.
Thank you for this comment! I am a SIDS mother. I get so irritated when suffocation is grouped into SIDS. True SIDS cannot be prevented or explained. Suffocation is a cause of death. It’s explainable! I along with other true SIDS parents will never have an explanation as to why my precious baby died. I wish doctors and researchers would stop classifying the 2 as the same thing.
I agree with many of the comments. It’s great to inform consumers of the risks but stating a product is unsafe to use is not helpful for parents seeking help. I have also used this product without issues. Instead of scaring the consumer and shaming a company for their product, I would prefer information on how to safely use the product to prevent some of the mentioned concerns so that as a parent I am well educated on how to safely use it.
Thanks for that feedback Suzana. FYI: Our specific advice on how to safely use this product is in the last paragraph of the review!
25 lbs. is not 50th percentile at 9 months. Not even close.
You’re right! We have updated that cite to be more accurate—it is 21 months for a boy, 22-23 months for girls.
I am agree with these. It’s great to inform consumers of the risks but stating a product is unsafe to use is not helpful for parents seeking help. I would prefer information on how to safely use the product to prevent some of the mentioned concerns. If you had more insight i will greatly appreciate it. Thanks for the sharing such a helpful article.
Thanks Thomas for those comments. Check out the last couple of paragraphs on this page—we tell you how to safely use it!
Hi there. I understand all the research and appreciate the advice however my issue with every blog and review of the rock n play that says don’t use it for sleeping is that they don’t recommend tips on how to get your baby to sleep on a flat hard surface. We have a halo bassinet and a crib and our baby refuses to sleep in either. He hates the hard surface. We’ve tried swaddling and noise machines and hand rocking him but nothing works. He will only sleep in the rock n play. Many of my friends have experienced the same thing. So if you’re going to say don’t use it, please include tips on how to get baby to sleep anywhere else!
Good point! We should add tips like that to this post. Do you try to lay your baby down on a flat firm surface to start? Or did you start with the FP Rock N Play? Unfortunately, babies can get too comfortable with the FP RNP in a hurry!
We started with the bassinet. Before baby was born I was adamant that he’d only sleep there because of the back to sleep research etc. I only planned to use rock n play during the day when we needed to put baby down for brief periods. I had no intention of having baby sleep in it. However after a week of baby not sleeping or only sleeping on one of us which required us to stay awake all night we tried putting baby down in RNP and he fell asleep instantly. All the advice I’ve gotten about how to get a baby to sleep in bassinet has seemed unsafe such as putting blankets around him to make him feel enclosed or a wedge under his head. Those are both highly advised against. So again, the advice is always what not to do and not tips on how to make the baby actually comfortable in a hard flat Surface. I feel like a bad parent every time I put the baby to sleep in the RNP but it’s a better option than none of us sleeping. It just always feels like the “advice” has no connection to the reality of having a newborn.
As a parent of two kids, we feel your pain. There are the best practices—and the reality of trying to get a newborn to sleep. Your story is a cautionary tale for other parents on how addictive the FP RNP can be. The same goes for babies who can only fall asleep with a bottle or pacifier. For specific tips in your case on how to break the RNP habit, I have pinged our in-house pediatrician to get some thoughts. I will post a reply here when I hear back. Meanwhile, there is a section on “Undoing Bad Sleep Habits” in our Baby 411 book, part of a chapter on sleep for babies up to a year. You might see if you local library has it and read that chapter. Spoiler alert: you can break the RNP habit, but it won’t be fun or easy.
Ok, the pediatrician who wrote the Baby 411 has chimed in to answer your questions:
“Here is the thing: newborns are not 2 month olds or 4 month olds. From 0-8 weeks they really like being snug (not necessarily on an incline). That is why the RNP is so great. However, 2 month olds up (and definitely 3 month olds) do like to start stretching out and moving/rolling over in their sleep. So, that is when switching from RNP to the flat surface–without swaddling or Merlin suit–is key. Babies do not need to sleep in a nest to be able to settle into sleep, but it can be an adjustment.
As for getting a baby to sleep on a flat surface, THERE ARE NO TRICKS. Adjusting for one baby is different for another one. Some babies may like listening to music, others may like mobiles, some like being rocked to sleep then moved into crib (*which is ok until 3 month mark). It just takes time and consistency of the routine. No one can find advice or answers on ‘how to’ because there is no answer other than you just do it and your baby figures it out.”
Thank you for this! Your reply and especially the remarks from your pediatrician are very reassuring. At least I feel like I’m not alone!
About the baby sleep rocker, my daughter has reflux. Sleeping in the bassinet is almost non existent because lying flat names the reflux effect her stomach coining up. This sleeper allows her to digest after feeding at night. She sleeps so much better. I agree with others statements that there can be problems leaving your baby in it all the time. Definitely good to move the baby to other positions. Also as far as the mold yes because of the plastic arch I.noticed my daughter can get warm causing her to sweat a little. Obviously she doesn’t need to wear super warm pajamas. Parents should clean the sleeper like a bed. Every 1-2 weeks. This will stop any mold problems.
I used the rock and play for my newborn to sleep overnight. I received it as a gift at my baby shower. During my sons 2 month check up, our pediatrician noticed my sons flat head on the back right side of his head. She asked what he was sleeping in, and I told her and she strongly advised to not use that. Sure it has padding, but the hard plastic insert causes a lot of pressure on the head, sometimes causing flat areas in infants. It also doesn’t allow an infant to move their head from side to side, as they are inclined, their head is forced to gravitate downward, which can cause neck problems among other things. So now we are waiting on a visit for PT. I have since stopped using the rock and play. I think the rock and play would be okay for nap time during the day, but definitely not overnight or for long periods of time. This is just my experience and obviously no one will have the same experiences, as all of our babies are different.
We are going through this same exact thing with my 3 month old, who is one month premature so 2 months adjusted. We started physical therapy last week! She has torticollis and also a flat spot on the back of her head, they are worried she may need a helmet for 6-12 months of life for 23 hours a day. They are also talking about surgery because her plates and sutures in her head are moving together and have caused a ridge in the back of her head. Never in a million years would have thought the rock n play, your explanation about neck being moved downward makes a ton of sense.
Ws had all 3 of our kids in the Rock N Play from birth till about 4 months old. It was lifesaver, they slept better and they did not have acid reflux. We used a Nest Noggin for there heads so they wouldn’t get flat head. However newborn are up through out the night so they are usually not in the Rock N Play for that long. Also the fabric comes off easily so you can wash it frequently, so there shouldn’t be any mold issues.
I find it interesting that people are so quick to blame the product and not themselves. Whatever happened to personal responsibility. I own this and if parents would read the instruction manual and the back of the swing itself, they would be able to make better informed decisions because it’s clearly in black and white
All of you parents who don’t want to blame the product just be thankful you were the lucky ones that didn’t have a problem with your RNP. Because I did. And before you go and tell me I must have used it wrong, etc. etc, you are wrong about that. I used it appropriately. I have had 4 kids. My last one was the one that had problems with the RNP. He had reflux, so this was what I thought to be a life saver! My baby ended up developing plagiocephaly and torticullis. Luckily we caught it before it got too bad and his head returned to shape on its own when we stopped using the RNP and he didn’t have to wear a helmet. He did have to go through months of physical therapy though to correct the issues with his neck though.