KidCo PeaPod travel beds are marketed as cozy sleeping spaces for newborns through age 6. Lightweight and portable, the colorful pop-up tents are often considered a practical alternative to bulky play yards.
Earlier this month, however, Canada's federal health agency advised parents and caregivers to immediately stop placing children under age 1 inside the product.
Kids in Danger, a Chicago-based advocacy group, said the concerns over the PeaPod illustrate a larger problem: Hybrid products can be used for sleeping but fall outside the scope of safety standards established for products such as play yards or cribs.
"The dangers of the PeaPod were never adequately investigated before it was sold -- leaving babies to find the flaws," said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger. "Parents don't have time to figure this out. They assume someone made sure it was safe."
Chicago mom Kristine Coogan uses the PeaPod when traveling with her twin girls, now 2 61/2 years old. "I think consumers are so conditioned to think that products have been tested and are safe or else they wouldn't be on the market," she said. "But the reality is that parents need to evaluate every product and decide for themselves."
Libertyville-based KidCo is working with both the CPSC and Health Canada during the investigation, said president Ken Kaiser.
"Hundreds of thousands of our travel beds have been sold over the last seven years, without an injury or death to any kids," he said. "We're concerned about the safety of any product we sell. Sometimes people do misassemble or misuse the product, and we take that into consideration in how we advertise."
One version of the bed, the KidCo PeaPod, includes an inflatable mattress that fits into a separate zippered compartment on the floor. The base of the tent is wind-resistant and blocks ultraviolet light, which allows parents to use it outdoors.
The company warns that the product should never be used with a mattress, pillow, comforter, padding or other type of bedding.
"The addition of these items with your sleeping child can cause a suffocation risk," KidCo's website says.
Still, even if the product is used properly, Health Canada has concerns over potential suffocation hazards. Since August, it has received two reports of infants rolling over and getting their faces trapped between the mattress and the side of the tent. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Health Canada spokesman Stephane Shank warned that infants can get "too close to the PeaPod's walls, which do not necessarily allow for free flow of air."
In the U.S., a 5-month-old boy from New York was found dead in a KidCo PeaPod Plus Portable Children's Travel Bed, according to a CPSC incident report filed in February. The parent reported that the infant was "rolled three-quarters of the way onto his belly, facedown and with his weight pressing him into the nonbreathable plastic siding of the travel crib."
The autopsy was inconclusive, Cowles said.
In the CPSC report, the parent said the products should not be marketed as safe for infants.
"It is advertised as breathable, yet the area where a baby would put his face is wind-resistant and fire-resistant and is not breathable," the parent wrote. "In addition, the tent is malleable and a baby can roll into the siding, molding his face and body into the non-breathable area in a way that would not be possible in the more rigid siding of a play pen."