The Nap Nanny meets the Nanny State

As we go, scientists and doctors find out more and more about the mystery that is childhood. Particularly in those months before the child can communicate with their parents in anything more than cries, figuring out what is right or wrong about the little one can be a terrifyingly-ineffectual exercise, but science is beginning to fill in the gaps.

For example, “colic” is a term we often hear applied to babies that display a particular penchant for screaming in their early months. What “colic” is, however, is the doctor’s catch-all term for “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him.” That’s not an exaggeration: like a “syndrome,” colic is simply the doctor’s term for a condition for which there’s no real answer. It is a clinical shrug.

But one chief driver of colic appears to be pain associated with gastrointestinal issues in the newly-operable digestive systems of babies. We don’t often think about it, but for nine months, the baby’s digestive system (and lungs, and nearly every other organ) develops without ever being used. Then at birth, the switch is thrown on the whole system all at once, while the former lifeline of the placenta is suddenly and summarily cut off. Its like ripping the diver’s mask off his face ten feet from the surface. Better hope everything goes according to plan.

That newly-minted GI tract is a fraction of its adult size and completely without practice, so any small problem the baby has digesting quickly becomes a huge problem. One small burp for you is a giant case of acid reflux for the kiddo.

Holding the baby more or less upright – or at least, the esophagus raised above the stomach – is one sure-fire way to alleviate the acid reflux thing. This is especially helpful[1. Fuck that: it’s a goddamned godsend] at night, which is why one enterprising new mother came up with the idea of the Nap Nanny: a solid piece of foam out of which is cut a small seat angled at a perfect 30 degrees to keep the kid’s head elevated during those formerly brief sleep periods.

God, how I love you, Nap Nanny.

The Nanny is a thing of genius, really. Made of a light-weight foam, it may not strike you as very stable at first glance. But the physics of its design cannot be denied: the baby’s weight is held directly in the center of the squared foam, thus making the whole package extremely stable. The straps hold the wee one in place securely while being soft and comfortable enough for him to sleep in. My kid likes to really rock and roll in the Nanny both before he goes to sleep and immediately after waking up and at no time have I ever seen it move enough to even come close to tipping over. In a wide landscape filled with children’s toys and accoutrement, rarely does one find an object of greater security.

There. It says it right fucking there.

Now it appears that, because of five tragic deaths associated with the Nap Nanny, the federal government is asking that this miracle in foam not be sold in stores until an investigation is complete. This, despite the fact that clearly:

That the recliners seem to have been used contrary to manufacturer’s instructions does not absolve Baby Matters, Wolfson said.

In four of the five deaths, none of them local, the Nap Nanny was placed in a crib – precisely what the warning labels on the seats say should not be done. Those instructions say the seats are to be used on the floor, with babies strapped into the three-point harness.

Here’s the thing: there are only five horrible deaths associated with the Nap Nanny. In each case, the parents were using the Nanny against the warnings placed right on the side of the foam – even my kid likes to play with the little silk warning tag. And the implication is that, in some cases, the Nanny was used in a crib with a crib liner, yet another explicitly warned-against practice. And if the kid is falling out of the Nanny and getting stuck where he/she could suffocate, clearly, the child cannot have been strapped into the seat.

I can’t imagine losing my child in this manner. Or any manner. But these are extremely rare cases of extremely bad luck – even violating the warning against using it in a crib, I can’t imagine there being any real trouble in 99.9999% of cases where this undoubtably happens.

And for these few cases, a good product is getting smeared. Good parents are going to stop using the thing and babies with horrible problems getting sleep are going to go right back to where they started. This is especially true because many networks – and I point our Rochester’s own 13WHAM as one case in point – say that the Nap Nanny is being recalled because of “a substantial product defect,” without actually specifying what the “defect” is. Why not begin the show with the announcement that “news happened,” and just go to commercial for the rest of the show?

Our son will continue to use the Nanny until he’s ready for his own crib – which won’t be long now, anyway. You should read the instructions carefully when buying any product and don’t let edge-case fears ruin your baby’s childhood.

Late update: The makers of the Nap Nanny now say they’ve gone out of business because of having to deal with the lawsuits.