I had to come out of the woodwork on this one: the Milwaukee ad campaign to prevent co-sleeping.
Troubled that their rate of infant mortality is excessively high, the City of Milwaukee has come out with an ad campaign comparing co-sleeping with an infant to, essentially, butchering your child with a knife.
What recent college graduate who has never breast fed or cared for a child came up with this one?
Complete Lack of Informed Knowledge of Co-Sleeping
I think the thing that is most troubling about this ad is the utter lack of consideration or knowledge about co-sleeping, which in fact has existed in our species for milennia. It has been shown that the majority of mothers either openly or privately admit to co-sleeping at least on a periodic basis. Thus this ad is not targeted to a small fringe group of ignorant un-informed mothers, but instead to the vast majority of parents in the world, who are taking part in an act that:
- Is a natural response to nurturing.
- Is predominant in most areas of the world, including countries with lower infant death rates than the U.S.
- Has been proven to have benefits to infant safety, particularly in relation to the suspected cause of SIDS in developed nations.
Research on the scientific benefits of co-sleeping is available on Ask Dr. Sears.
Loss of an Opportunity to Teach about Safe Co-Sleeping
The fact of the matter is this: if co-sleeping was universally unsafe, we would have become extinct as a species many, many years ago.
But the particular shame of this ad campaign is this: there are aspects of co-sleeping that parents should educated about, and this campaign misses that mark entirely.
What should be advocated is *safe* co-sleeping practices, such as:
- Choosing not to co-sleep when under the influence (a primary cause of the small number of deaths that have occurred),
- Not co-sleeping on *couches*, and
- Not co-sleeping if you or your husband are obese.
- Choosing a firmer bed and avoiding feather beds and foam bed liners.
- Ensuring that any space between the mattress and head board or foot board are filled, for example, with rolled towels or another firm support.
- Ensuring that the mother, preferably breastfeeding, is near the child and alert to its breath and movements. Studies have shown that sleeping, breastfeeding mothers often awake to even the slightest trouble of their infant, lowering risk of SIDS.
For more on safe co-sleeping, see the book Good Nights, by Jay Gordon.
You can see parallels here with general health risks that we all face. For example, with pregnancy: if you are alcoholic, obese, or diabetic you carry certain risks with your pregnancy that need to be addressed. And those same risks can carry over beyond your pregnancy and into your child-rearing as well.
Equating co-sleeping to “butchering” your child because it is not safe for people struggling with addiction or obesity?
This is like saying that the end result of human pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome, therefore humans should not become pregnant.
Respect for Parents, Respect for Babies
The unfortunate consequence of Milwaukee’s campaign is that it takes power away from parents: to make their own decisions, to act in line with nature, and to act safely.
Instead, the campaign functions as an insult — an insult to parents who co-sleep and an insult to the intelligence of those who wish to fully understand the issue and become truly educated and informed. Like many insults it is carried about from a position of ignorance. It acts from ignorance, and it spreads ignorance.
We should shun ignorance but also look upon it with compassion. Am I sorry that the people of Milwaukee suffer from a high infant mortality rate? Yes. Do I feel this scourge should be faced head on with research and education? Yes.
Does this excuse the City from becoming fully educated on this issue before issuing a ridiculously one-sided, hurtful, inconsiderate, and uninformed campaign? No. My hope is that the City will use the attention they are getting to find a place of humility, become more informed, and work to educate from a position of increased power.
When we speak with gusto and verve, we have a responsibility to consider the consequences more fully and to fully educate ourselves as to our position.
What do you think? Should Milwaukee issue an apology? Or are they acting rightly for the benefit of the people of Milwaukee?