MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin—This week a storm of controversy erupted over a co-sleeping campaign by the City of Milwaukee’s Health Department’s use of ads depicting infants on their stomachs sleeping next to a butcher knife. According to the Department’s website, the awareness campaign is intended to reduce the number of infant death due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and Sudden Unexplained Death in infancy (SUDI) which in Milwaukee accounts for 20% of infant deaths, most of which are caused from unsafe sleep environments.
The campaign took a negative turn, however, after parents nationwide expressed their shock over the ads. In a post on Café Mom’s The Stir, Christie Haskell, a co-sleeping advocate, alluded that everyone is smart enough to recognize how wrong it is to let a baby sleep on their stomach while surrounded by fluffy bedding is obviously wrong.
News of Haskell’s assertions will likely be a great relief to the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force which will now be able to stop distributing educational literature warning that, “bed-sharing, as done in the US and other Western countries, is more dangerous than the infant sleeping on a separate sleep surface.” The Task Force can also stop their point-blank recommendations that infants should not share a bed with adults, “both well-known safety hazards regardless of where babies sleep.”
Obviously ignorant of this new development, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett appeared on a Wisconsin AM Morning show claiming that there are zip codes in the city with a huge racial disparity and an infant mortality rate that’s higher than some third world nations. Milwaukee City Council figures show that of the 203 pre-one-year-old babies who died in 2007 and 2008, 25 per cent were unintended sleep related deaths, of which 10 suffocated while co-sleeping.
These facts show blatant disregard for the opinions of mom bloggers, 52% of which have a college degree and an average median income of $84,000, $14,000 higher than that of all moms nationwide. The Mayor would do well then to listen to the experts on this matter.
Haskell, a self-proclaimed pagan hippie who doesn’t live in any of the above, predominantly low-income zip codes or even Milwaukee, says health officials would be better off telling parents how to safely co-sleep, rather than demonize parents who do it as a deliberate choice with plenty of safety precautions. Haskell went on to point out that, “when you actually remove dangerous “co-sleeping” situations like a drunk guy on a couch, and compare to safe cribs, co-sleeping comes out with lower death rates.” These statistics come from a 2005 fact sheet published by chiropractor, Dr. Linda Folden Palme.
For many mom bloggers and parenting experts, the City of Milwaukee is clueless to the sensitivities of its residents, and furthermore, Mayor Barrett’s misguided goal to drop the city-wide infant mortality rate by 10% over the next six years is an obvious attack directed at co-sleeping parents everywhere. Were it not for these vigilant, educated individuals bringing this issue to the nation’s attention, who knows how many Milwaukee infants would’ve missed out on the joy that come from sleeping in bed between mom and dad.
Despite the negative publicity, Mayor Barrett seems un-phased about the campaign which he announced the morning after a seven week-old baby died from co-sleeping with the mother, becoming the ninth such death of this year.
The Journal Sentinel Online quoted the Mayor as saying, “If the ads make some people uncomfortable, I guarantee it’s a lot less uncomfortable than having another baby die from co-sleeping,” something the Mayor referred to as “preventable.”
Such callous disdain will not win the Mayor any friends among mom bloggers anytime in the next six years.