Fired Up Friday: The Safety of Co-Sleeping…Why the Mayor of Milwaukee is sending the wrong message…

A blatantly offensive and disturbing advertisement campaign has been released in the city of Milwaukee, lead by the Mayor of the city, Tom Barrett. In an attempt to help lower the infant mortality rate in his city, Mayor Bennett has released this campaign featuring infants sleeping next to knives in beds swarming with blankets and large pillows, stating that the infant is just as safe sleeping next to the knives as they would be sleeping in their parents’ beds. As part of the outrage stemming from these advertisements, parents are being asked to notify the Mayor of his and his campaign’s misgivings:

I’m here to tell you, Mr. Mayor, I am proud to cosleep with my infant daughter, as I did with my now four year old son. The benefits of co-sleeping or bed sharing with infants are innumerable, when done safely and with compassion. I don’t believe anyone disagrees with your intention of lowering infant mortality for your citizens, but there are thousands of cosleeping parents outraged by the images chosen to represent your message. While the city of Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate has proven high, it seems as though a racial disparity is present and a need for education and public health information is needed- without scare tactics and misinformation. A rate of 10.4 deaths per 1000 live births in 2009, according to the health department proved while there were 5.4 Caucasian infant deaths, the rate of African American infant deaths was nearly triple that at 14.1. I believe, as many others probably do, it is commendable to have teamed with the United Way of Milwaukee to target efforts towards reducing the rates and to specifically lower the death rates of specific demographics to align with a lower goal rate overall (reducing the city’s African American rate by 15% and the city’s rate by 10% to reach a historical low by 2017).

This is, however, where I begin to depart from my agreement with the ad campaign for the city of Milwaukee. Co sleeping, or bed sharing, is a beneficial sleeping method for infants and parents alike. It naturally supports the breastfeeding mother, allowing ease of breastfeeding without having to fully waken both mom and baby. It allows the infant to sleep peacefully, rarely crying or startling throughout the night, preventing stress and adrenaline from being released. Adrenaline causes the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure to rise, and long term these can contribute to sleep anxiety. Co sleeping contributes to regulating the sleeping infant’s breathing and heart rate patterns, and has been shown in studies to contribute to the child’s self esteem and emotional well being. More information can be found here, citing several studies proving the safety of cosleeping.

The call to action now is coming from myself and other cosleeping parents to take the opportunity to educate parents, regardless of their demographic, of safe sleeping practices. While information about safe co sleeping can be found in countless places, a clear, concise listing of information can be found by Dr. William Sears, a leader of the attachment parenting world. Dr. Sears, like many others, advocates safe sleeping practices, including taking precautions to prevent baby from rolling out of bed, sleeping next to the mother as opposed to between both parents, and the use of a large enough bed or bedside sleeper. Under no circumstances shall a parent under the influence of drugs or alcohol sleep with a child, and soft surfaces such as water beds, where an infant may be smothered, are dangerous for cosleeping. Another leading expert, Dr. James J. Mckenna, has a study to describe “the relationships between infant sleep patterns, infant sleeping arrangements and development both in the short and long term, whether having positive or negative outcomes, is anything but simple and the traditional habit of labelling one sleeping arrangement as being superior to another without an awareness of family, social and ethnic context is not only wrong but possibly harmful.” (Dr. James J. McKenna, PMID: 15911459 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE])

Please consider the information being shared with you as a means to redirect your ‘Cosleeping Smear Campaign’ towards a healthier avenue of parental education. At a minimum, please consider the removal of such offensive advertisements or reword your advertisements to reflect a message of encouraging safe sleeping practices, over blanket statements implying sleeping with our infants will in effect, kill them. Informed, safe cosleeping provides benefits for our children well beyond the age of infancy. I will urge readers to share their thoughts of your ad campaign as well. They may do so by emailing their thoughts to mayor@milwaukee.gov

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2 thoughts on “Fired Up Friday: The Safety of Co-Sleeping…Why the Mayor of Milwaukee is sending the wrong message…

  1. I never shared a bed with my first child, mainly because I was too scared that I’d smush him. With my daughter, however, I occasionally coslept with her out of necessity. My husband worked nights and she was a difficult baby. Horrible reflux issues resulting in screaming fits. She slept best next to me. I was able to nurse her and sleep at the same time. The nights that I coslept, I got a significantly larger amount of sleep, though I was still terrified of suffocating her and slept very lightly. I wish I’d had more info on safe cosleeping so I would have felt more comfortable all around about it.

    • Laureen- I can relate to worrying about smushing them, with Jax it was so new to me that I was always waking up at first. Bed sharing doesn’t always work best- Some parents sleep better with their little ones in a bassinet or sleeper next to their beds (This is still co sleeping). I linked a few articles by Dr. Sears, I find his information is down to earth, and easy to adapt to what works for your own family. Both ‘Attachment Parenting’ and ‘The Baby Book’ by Dr. Sears discuss bed sharing/ co sleeping and the benefits- least of all Mom getting sleep! The most important thing is making informed decisions for what is best for you and your family- I know you’re doing that every single day! (: ~ Kate

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