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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Milwaukee co-sleeping ads: a fear-mongering lack of information

I'm sure I'm like the zillionth blogger to talk about this, and for good reason: those stupid Milwaukee Department of Health ads are over the top. They're making national headlines now as the AP has picked up the story and the public's reaction to it. And as usual, they also come with a million comments from idiots who think that people who do this should have children removed from their custody, blah blah blah.

As I searched for photos online about the project, I found a few of them - besides the butcher ones that ran recently. This campaign, from what I can tell, is not "new" - another blog posted various photos from it as early as last year. It seems like only now is it really drawing any widespread criticism.

I don't even co-sleep, and can probably count the number of times I have on one hand. And I still find them absolutely ridiculous. I should add that, for my second and third children, they slept in a bassinette/Pack 'n Play thingy in our room for at least a full six months before we moved them into their own beds.

What a nice touch. But where are your
You see similar ads that encourage - coerce, guilt - you into vaccinating, for everything under the sun. The bottom line of these campaigns is not only that you should vaccinate for every illness that comes down the pike, but that a government entity knows more about raising your children than you do. Granted, some people do need help in that department, sadly, but the majority of people who co-sleep responsibly have probably got that figured out by now.

The ad campaigns are disturbing on many levels - of course, no parent would let their child play with a knife. However, how many news articles do you read about toddlers finding a loaded weapon in the home, accidentally discharging it and causing fatal injuries? According to this article, as of 2009 there was at least "one gun crime per household in West Milwaukee." How many of those households had young children living in them? It seems that co-sleeping is the least of their worries.

Another very disturbing fact about these ads is that they lack just that: facts. Where is the information that says co-sleeping can be safe? Where is the data that suggests certain people should not co-sleep with their child, or the suggestions on how to do it more safely? You won't find them here. That you'd have to get from the Big Bad Internet or your pediatrician (good luck with that).

It seems the only pediatrician who will give you good advice is Dr. Sears, who, with a family of eight children, is already bucking the traditional system when it comes to the politics of parenting. His recommendations are on his website. He says,
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm.
On countries where there just is no Babies 'R Us and cribs are probably an anomaly, what do they do? They share the family bed, of course. Does the United States think they are the only nation of people who has ever co-slept with their child?


I question these statistics, and so do other studies.
They call it "crib death" for a reason, don't they?
Dr. Sears goes on to note:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents. 
He does say, however, there is an exception: if mom is a smoker or abuses alcohol. Both of which are reasons not to co-sleep. This blogger also pointed out that
most babies in Milwaukee die because they were born too early, or because they have birth defects. Only 19% of the infant deaths are the result of SIDS or accidental suffocation, according to a 2010 report. And only a fraction of those deaths occurred in infants that were sharing a bed.
The city's report on infant mortality - which is around 11.1 deaths per 1,000 births - says that "Of these deaths, the majority died in an unsafe sleep environment." They do not say, however, what percentage of those environments contained risk factors for SIDS.

Ways to lower your risk include breastfeeding - something many serious co-sleeping parents do in order to better facilitate nursing at night. Since these mothers are already breastfeeding, it is unlikely they would willingly ingest drugs or alcohol that would compromise their sleep patterns, because of the fact that it would come out in their breastmilk. Similarly, they are probably less likely to be smokers, because it is obviously unhealthy around an infant, but can diminish milk supply.

(This interesting study also suggests that mothers who do smoke and breastfeed are more likely to have babies with disrupted sleep, due to the nicotine in their breastmilk.)

One thing I take issue with is the designation of SIDS for obvious cases of suffocation. True SIDS has no known cause, but according to PubMed Health:
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death.
If you wake up and find your baby wedged between the bed and the wall, that's a very explainable cause of death, don't you think? While accidentally falling asleep with your child in an unsafe place is unadvisable, accidents do happen - and safe, long-term co-sleeping hardly falls into this category. This is similar to the number of deaths that happened because of unsafe cribs that were often improperly assembled. While tragic, would they dare call that SIDS? I doubt it.

Among the risk factors for true SIDS are being born to a teen mother (Milwaukee apparently has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the entire nation), mothers who smoke or use illegal drugs, late or no prenatal care and living in impoverished conditions. Last year, Milwaukee was ranked the fourth-poorest city in the nation. It could be a long-shot, but I'm guessing the average co-sleeping parent doesn't fit this profile very well.

Either way, this is not an adequately objective campaign on how to inform parents of both the potential risks and benefits of co-sleeping. It's already hard enough to get unbiased information as a parent on things like vaccinations, circumcision, breastfeeding and formula use and a myriad of other parenting issues, especially when you seek to do things in a non-conventional manner that breaks tradition and the norm. This isn't helping, other than to create more "mommy wars" hostility and spread even more misinformation.

More reading:
Scientific benefits of co-sleeping - Dr. Sears
Infant Mortality Rates - City of Milwaukee


Conservamom said... you said,this is so ridiculous. Like you I'm not big into co sleeping but seriously this "campaign" is typical in that it tries to instill fear. I find the whole thing incredibly tasteless. No matter what point they are trying to get across :(

Peggy said...

Someday in a health setting, I'm going to insist on being giving "culturally appropriate" information: with graphs and statistics and footnotes and references and equations wherever possible. This dumbed-down-past-all-reason stuff just makes my head hurt.

Anonymous said...

I co sleep, ever since my Second child was born, wished I would have done it with my first. All five of the kids I co slept with are totally fine and were moved into there own bed when they started to sleep through the night. Two thoughts:
1. I thought it was weird when the nurse at the hospital made it a point to tell me not to co sleep until they are one. Why would you suddenly start when they're one?
2. My neighbors who just had a baby were amazed that my babies slept through the night at such an early age (and I was well rested in spite of breastfeeding) I told them it was because I co slept. You would have thought I admitted to killing someone with the immediate reaction they had. Then later they said "you can do that?".
Maybe I should drop some Dr. Sears books on their doorstep.