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Government joins warning against bedding in playpens

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WASHINGTON — Government safety officials are joining a toy company in a new campaign to warn parents to avoid placing soft bedding such as quilts or pillows in playpens to keep babies from dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been warning about the dangers of soft bedding since 1994, mostly focusing on cribs. The agency said Thursday it suspects a link between soft bedding and the suffocation and SIDS deaths of nearly 100 babies in playpens since 1988.

Infants can suffocate when soft bedding becomes molded around their faces, a danger that may be responsible for as many as a third of SIDS deaths, said agency spokesman Ken Giles.

SIDS is the name given for the sudden death of an infant under one year of age that remains unexplained after a complete investigation. It's the leading cause of death in infants between one month and one year of age.

Parents must be careful with playpens as well as cribs since both are now used as places for babies to sleep, the safety commission said. More than 2.5 million playpens, portable cribs and play yards are sold each year.

The agency and Mattel, one of the largest manufacturers of children's products, are launching a "Sleep Safe, Play Safe" campaign to educate parents and those caring for children about the dangers of cushions, extra mattresses and other bedding in playpens. The campaign will include radio announcements and posters and brochures sent to pediatricians and child care organizations.

The safety commission's study of playpen deaths also found other hazards, including protruding hardware and collapsing side rails. Overall, there were 200 playpen deaths reported since 1988.