Dear Milwaukee Health Department,
I get it.
You have a terrible issue with infant mortality in your city and you want what's best for your children. Yes, it's tragic that the second leading cause of infant deaths in Milwaukee is SIDS, and it is certainly eye-opening that the death toll is different depending on the race of the babies.
But do you have to scare parents? Can't you educate them instead?
Bed-sharing can be made safe if you take intelligent precautions like putting your mattress on the floor, removing fluffy pillows and comforters, refraining from drinking, smoking, or taking drugs (prescription or illegal).
Breast-feeding mothers are able to more easily feed and comfort their babies in the night if they are bed-sharing.
Babies are programmed by evolution to want to be close to their parents.
Sleeping with an infant in a couch or recliner is always UNSAFE.
And that last fact is my main issue with your tactics, Milwaukee. Telling people not to bed-share with their babies is like telling teenagers to just abstain from sex. It does not stop the behavior--it merely sends it underground. Parents frightened by your ads will lie to their pediatricians to avoid a lecture. They will prop their infants in their arms in a recliner or a sofa just so they can get some sleep and incorrectly assume that they are sleeping safely. Or, because of fear, they will live with an infant who refuses to sleep in a crib and become sleep-deprived themselves, making them more vulnerable to postpartum depression, stress, and delayed reaction times.
I have a son who at 14 months is just now learning to sleep on his own for two hour stretches at a time. The rest of the time, he sleeps cuddled with me.
I was scared of bed-sharing. I assumed it was unsafe because of public service tactics like yours. But my son would not let me or anyone else in our house get any sleep if we put him to bed by himself. So I did research and educated myself, despite the disapproval of my pediatrician and other mothers. And I discovered that bed-sharing is a viable option.
Please, Milwaukee, take the time to educate your parents. I recognize that it's much faster and simpler to create a provocative image and scare people into doing something safer. And I do hope that your advertisement does keep babies from harm. But wouldn't you be doing a greater service to your city (and parents everywhere) if you found a way to explain the dangers of bed-sharing and how to mitigate them?
I'm not saying that education is easy. As a former teacher, I certainly know that a short, simple and emotional advertisement will get your point across more clearly and easily than a long drawn-out explanation. But I'm afraid that you are doing parents a disservice by scaring them. Please empower them instead.