Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Milwaukee, Please Stop Fearmongering

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?

Some facts:

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.

The SAHMnambulist


  1. When The Kid refused to sleep anywhere but our bed for the first month of his life, I was scared, too. My LC supported our decision to bed-share, and we took precautions to make it a safe environment. We did move him into his PnP at one month, and his own room at two months, and I fully believe this was the best arrangement for us. The Kid got sleep, WE got sleep, and we bonded in a way we wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

    I recently read an article which posited that many deaths labeled "SIDS" are actually suffocation deaths due to things that could have been avoided (unsafe co-sleeping practices, sleeping on a couch, ribbons or cords near the crib, etc.). It's a fascinating read:

    Of course, it's horrible to think that a parent could be at fault for something like this...But it doesn't mean that co-sleeping and bed-sharing are inherently bad. You just need to take precautions, be safe, and do what's best for your family.

  2. Sleepless nights are a parenting myth. They aren't inevitable, and co-sleeping is a normal, natural way to sleep.

    This is just another example of the clinical approach to parenting. It isn't supposed scientifically, socially, or psychologically. That is a really fucking scary image to show new parents! Shame on you Milwaukee HD!

  3. I remember reading that co-sleeping safely actually reduced the incidence of SIDS. A quick google led me to this article that seems to summarize the support that I recall for co-sleeping:
    I wanted to co-sleep but for the same reason co-sleeping decreases SIDS risk I couldn't. Namely none of us got any quality sleep. Baby was too fidgety a sleeper and I was too light a sleeper with baby in bed. That Milwaukee poster is disgraceful.
    I believe that science, sociology, and psychology have very worthwhile contributions to childhood development. Personally, I try to get different sources and then make my own decision based on my own comfort level. I am not comfortable with making blanket statements period! (Ha ha, see what I did there?)

  4. @Anonymous, I totally agree. There's far too much hyperbole in parenting as it is, and this campaign does not help to make parents better parents--just more frightened.

    @MT, I'm having the fidgety baby problem now that LO has gotten to be 14 months old. He kicks me all night, but isn't totally awake when he does it. I've been able to adjust our routine so that he comes back to the big bed to nurse in the middle of the night (so I'm not 100% awake), and then he goes back to his crib when snack time's over.

    I also feel that parents need to make their own decisions based on their children and their needs. One of the reasons why I'm so passionate about sleep issues is because my son is NOTHING like what the babies in all of the sleep books described. So I was trying (many many many) different methods from different books, and the only thing that worked was to co-sleep and wait for him to move to the next stage developmentally. So blanket statements (about where baby should sleep, about how best to encourage independent sleep, about anything) don't take into account the incredible diversity of babies and their temperaments.

    Oh, and @Jenn, thanks for the link. You're right, that is fascinating (and scary) reading.