Maryland on Tuesday became the first state in the nation to propose a ban on the sale of crib bumper pads because health officials believe they may pose unnecessary risks of suffocation to infants.

If approved, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2013. It would exclude the sale of bumper pads for older children or for those who have special needs.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been taking a look at the safety of crib bumpers and expects to share its findings with a panel of experts, said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson.

The Maryland recommendation follows the advice of a four-member task force, which said in May that crib bumper pads can suffocate or strangle babies.

In June, the CPSC voted to give a number of manufacturers and providers of drop-side cribs used for infants and babies more time to comply with stronger safety standards for the sleeping beds.

Our priority is the health of infants in Maryland, state health secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein said in a written statement.

Bumper pad makers contend the cushions that line a crib keep babies from hitting their heads, but task-force members argued that research shows most babies cannot exert enough force to hurt themselves and bumpers do more harm than good.

We found that these products do pose a rare but real risk of serious injury to a small infant, Sharfstein said.

Regarding the benefits, we closely reviewed the data the manufacturers had to offer, but none of our experts were persuaded of any significant benefits of crib bumpers, and neither were we.

The new standards for cribs, bassinets, and play yards come after the group ordered a ban of the product in the United States in 2010 and will be an important step in ensuring a safe environment for infants as they sleep, according to a statement from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Problems with the harmful cribs stemmed from gaps that form between the crib mattress and drop side rails due to errors in assembly or installation; these are also caused by wear or malfunction from use by individuals.

The problems result in infants being trapped in the gap, who in fact may suffocate. Since 2000, drop side cribs have been linked to at least 32 infant deaths in the United States, according to the CPSC in June.

The ban on the manufacture and sale of drop-side rail cribs will go into effect today, although hotels, motels and day care centers are being allowed to use the drop-side rail cribs until December 28, 2012.