Total recall

Last month, I wrote about the many wonderful products out there to make baby’s life easier.  But the existence of all of these gadgets has a downside.
Imported products have enabled parents to have access to cost-affordable goods to address all manner of baby needs, from feeding to sleeping to playtime.  But perhaps due to lower health and safety standards abroad, or inadequate internal controls at manufacturers, or maybe due to corporate concerns about litigation, inevitably, some number of these products will be subject to the dreaded recall.
Danger in the nursery
As parents, we’ve run into a few recalls ourselves.  The first was the recall of “drop-side” cribs that occurred in the fall of 2009 after the tragic deaths of a number of infants due to strangulation in the movable parts.  We’d, of course, registered for a drop-side crib without thinking about the implications of movable and vulnerable plastic parts.  We’d liked the way the crib looked visually, matching the theme we’d selected for baby Dee’s room, and didn’t even notice the somewhat fine print on the web mentioning the crib’s drop-side feature.  Generous family friends had the product shipped to our house from one of the big box department stores that sold the item.
Baby Dee, not a particularly good sleeper, spent most of her first few months in a bassinet or sleeping in one of her parent’s comforting arms.  When the government announced its recall of drop-side cribs some eight weeks after Dee was born, she had yet to spend a night in the meticulously assembled crib.
The recalled cribs were defective because their plastic rails could warp over time, allowing an infant to squeeze her body into what could end up being a dangerous space.  Our crib had such plastic parts, but for whatever reason, it was not actually one of the cribs listed on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) recall notice.  But we’d read the stories about infants suffering devastating or fatal injury due to drop-side cribs.  And we’d seen the passage of state laws banning such cribs and a recommendation by the national engineering body, the American Society of Testing and Materials, that no crib contain moving parts. I contacted the store which shipped us the crib, only to be told that, since we had missed the 90 day return window, and we did not have one of the specifically recalled cribs, we were out of luck.  A month later, more manufacturers’ cribs were added to the list.  On the Today show, the head of the government’s CPSC watchdog agency stated that she thought no parent should use any drop side crib.  Still, the store, and then the manufacturer, refused to take the crib back.  We ended up searching for an immobile crib and tossing Dee’s first into the attic.
Don’t panic
Then there was the baby Tylenol recall.  This time, the recall was motivated by somewhat vaguely described “quality control” issues, and the bottle of suspension that had soothed a few minor fevers for baby Dee was on the list.  Though we did get a full refund this time around, imagine our angst that we’d given her several drops of this product that now belonged in the trash!
Sometimes, companies offer “fixes” that do little to sooth parental anxiety.  When millions of roman blinds and window shades were “recalled,” the manufacturers’ solution was to send out cleats that could be used to keep drawstrings out of baby’s reach.  But what if the string slips off?  Or if a sleep-deprived parent forgets to tie down the shades after a long night of teething-related protests?
There’s no way to prevent some products one buys for a baby from facing a recall.  How to remain calm is every parent’s challenge.  Perhaps it’s enough to remember that no product can substitute for a watchful, loving family. 

Geoffrey Rapp is a law professor at the University of Toledo and the father of a one-year-old baby girl, “Dee”. Contact him at c/o

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