It's a precautionary purchase that may only leave your infant in unneeded danger.

This Tuesday, researchers in The Journal of Pediatrics reported the number of fatalities attributable to crib bumpers, a popular line of soft crib liners to prevent children from hurting themselves, have actually escalated over the past few years — an average of 8 deaths per every 7 years from 1985 to 2006 to 23 deaths from 2006 to 2012. It's a stark finding that's driven the study authors to be unequivocal about their position on crib bumpers.

"Crib bumpers are killing kids," said senior author Dr. Bradley T. Thach, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in a statement. "Bumpers are more dangerous than we originally thought. The infant deaths we studied could have been prevented if the cribs were empty."

A Total Ban

The research team analyzed data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an organization two of Thach's fellow colleagues, Dr. N.J. Scheers and Dr. Dean W. Woodard, have previously worked for. Not only were 48 bumper-related deaths reported to the CPSC from 1985 to 2012, but so were 146 incidents in which an infant was nearly choked, suffocated or strangled to death. Of these deaths, 67 percent were directly attributable to the bumper alone, while the remaining involved a baby being wedged between the bumper and another object (or even a twin sibling, as in one case).

"When a baby's nose and mouth is covered by a bumper, the infant can suffocate when his or her airway becomes blocked, or from breathing oxygen-depleted air," Scheers elaborated. "So if bumpers had not been in the cribs, these babies would not have died."

Though the sharp increase in bumper deaths may have been partially due to better reporting or more visibility of the potential dangers that bumpers bring, rather than a true increase, the researchers also note that the total number of fatalities throughout the years has similarly been severely undercounted.

"This highlights the most important limitation of the study," Scheers explained. "CPSC relies on death certificates to identify deaths caused by specific products. Bumper involvement is often not specified on death certificates, so it is highly likely many deaths caused by crib bumpers are missed." Indeed, in another analysis of data taken from 37 states via the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, they found an additional 32 deaths, lifting it to 77 in total.

For Dr. Thach, the current findings are a validation of his previous 2007 study on crib bumpers, which similarly concluded that not only could it be potentially fatal, but at best can only prevent minor injuries. Unfortunately, it appears his warning then went unheeded in the following years — a possibility that Thach and his colleagues are desperate to avoid this go-around.

"A ban on crib bumpers would reinforce the message that no soft bedding of any kind should be placed inside a baby's crib," Thach said. "There is one sure-fire way to prevent infant deaths from crib bumpers: Don't use them, ever." So far, only the state Maryland and the city Chicago have gone as far as to enforce such a ban.

Of course, there are plenty of way to safeguard your baby's health without resorting to crib bumpers, both before and after birth.

Source: Thach B, Scheers N.J., Woodward D. Crib Bumpers Continue to Cause Infant Deaths: A Need for a New Preventive Approach. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015.