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

Fired Up Friday: How Breastfeeding Has Gotten Lost Along The Way

I am introducing a new topic starter for my blog called Fired Up Friday. On these posts I will be discussing some things that I have either felt a great need to raise question about them, or they are controversial in nature. A lot of these topics will center around the natural parenting and childbirth world- there’s a lot of controversy there. With Fired Up Fridays, I would like to invite you to discuss these topics with me! What matters to you as a mom or a woman probably matters to a lot of other women. What do you wish you had known for yourself and your babies? What do you hear so many people questioning and wonder yourself if you should be doing the same? Was there an experience you absolutely revel in or was there an experience you had becoming a mother that was devastating? I invite your comments here on the blog but also on my new Facebook page, Life with Jax and Bella. Its a little lonely over there since its new- come on over, like the page, and leave a post on the wall about something about parenting, mothering, or life that gets you ‘fired up’. Spread the word about this blog and the FB page with your friends. My hope is we’ll be able to start discussions, share information, help each other with questions, or share a rant we just need to get out. Empowerment among mothers can be a wonderful thing. Maybe something I thought was a big deal isn’t, or maybe what I share here is earth shattering news for you. So, without further ado, my first topic — breastfeeding and society today:

Recently I had the pleasure of finding a Facebook chat for breastfeeding mothers. This site is meant to be a supportive environment to chat, post questions, and to even post pictures of little ones nursing. I also found a La Leche League International FB page, the leaders of breastfeeding education and support across the globe. Since attending LLL meetings in my area is not an option, this was something I was
happy to find.
I would never doubt someone saying that breastfeeding can be challenging, nor would I doubt someone looking for help or advice. There are plenty of times to need answers when it comes to being an infant’s only food source. I certainly have had to do my own homework
too. I am struck by just how many posts in the ‘nursing chat’ group involve *sudden* drops in supply, as if in a single moment their milk is gone; unsatisfied babies who must still be hungry simply because they cry, and even a single nursing session with a poor latch on a four month old, with no prior issues, automatically is assumed to be tongue tie. The cries for help are riddled with statements like ‘I am
such a failure’, ‘I am letting her down’, and ‘someone PLEASE tell me
what I am doing wrong’. It seems, unfortunately, that many of these
mothers are on this site to constantly stir up the drama they have been taught goes along with breastfeeding.
Again, I don’t doubt there are genuine issues many moms are having- I went through countless issues of weak and poor latches, battled constantly clogged ducts, and even with books I had no idea how to battle through to succeed at nursing with Jax. A ‘lactation consultant’ through the area hospital
was not helpful, telling me when I asked about Jax’s latch and that the hospital had provided us with a shield to help him learn, she said she had never heard of a nipple shield and did not have any
suggestions how to help him breastfeed without it.
The question that I am raising is, are there really this many issues here? Or are these mothers, despite their efforts to give their babies what is best by breastfeeding, falling victim to the fear mongering so present in our society- circling like sharks around breastfeeding, mothering, birth and maternity care today? A woman’s perceived inadequacy has been a prevalent issue for breastfeeding mothers, fed by unsupportive or uneducated health providers, relatives who mean well by suggesting ‘a bottle would be easier’, and nurses and
hospitals bound by ridiculous procedures and habits which hinder breastfeeding by intervening in the natural process of birth and immediate bonding.
Hospitals and Pediatrician offices hand out formula and ‘new baby
kits’ from formula companies left and right. There are even ones
targeted to breastfeeding mothers, the pamphlet stating ‘We support
your choice to breastfeed. But life changes, and when it does, we’re
there for you’. Products flood the market for ‘feeding’ infants- covers (let’s not get me started on the cover up issue), second rate pumps *made by formula companies* which do not meet World Health Organization standards, different ways to ‘tag’ which side you nursed on because ‘you might forget’. Just how incompetent do mothers really seem? Its easy to see why so many moms doubt themselves today.

It is a little known fact that the USA is one of the few countries that actually allows formula to be advertised. Formula companies earn millions annually for products which are regularly recalled. The WHO actually recommends formula only as a last resort for babies, after options such as donated milk from a milk bank or a wet nurse have been exhausted. This is not a bitter diatribe to say parents who choose formula are wrong to do so. I am the first person to say parents need to decide what’s right for THEIR children. But is it time for society to realize what
is natural and deigned by design has been not only forgotten, but taught as wrong, shameful, and inadequate for our infants? Do hospitals and doctors really have evidence to back up their policies
preventing the all too important process of birth bonding to take place to allow for a successful start to breastfeeding? (No! They don’t!!)
I sat last night with my grandmother, her sister, and a friend, who talked about what breastfeeding had been like for them. They all said they tried so hard, but lasted a couple weeks. Why? It hurt, they didn’t know how, and they didn’t have any help aside from their doctors. The doctors’ advice? Give them formula- its better anyways. The importance of support and knowledge is invaluable for the
breastfeeding mother. The source of this support, however, is just as important. Having hindsight always puts the advantage in my hands as a parent- in this case knowing the information I have found surrounding one of the most important things we can do for our babies is better, more informative, and more truthful than what I had seen in the past.
So what can we do? Short of sitting in a circle together in a busy public place, nursing our babies singing Kumbaya, (not happening for me, its not my style)- we can spread the word and support each other as mothers (Breastfeeding or not). We can share the information and successes we have- and we can share what hasn’t worked too. We can be supportive of moms nursing in public. In the paths we travel further into motherhood, we can seek out health care providers who are supportive of breastfeeding. We can learn the requirements hospitals and care givers must meet to be labled ‘Mother Friendly’ and ‘Baby Friendly’. We can take it one step further by seeking out care providers endorsed by CIMS, (The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services) to ensure we get the right start when having another baby. Most of all, we can surround ourselves with information and confidence- and remember there are things we were meant to do, and even though its a learning process, we can do it.
Now its your turn. Did breastfeeding come naturally to you? Did you love it or not? Did you wish you had better support or did you have the best help you could find? Did you formula feed from the start because you didn’t know how to breastfeed or were embarassed by it? Do you nurse in public with no hesitation? Its time to share!!