co-sleeping is the same as handing your baby a meat cleaver? Milwaukee, PLEASE.

Are these people serious?

Here we go again. According to Huffington Post Parents, the city of Milwaukee’s Health Department decided this was the best way to warn parents of very young children about the potential dangers of babies sleeping on their backs, or under a puffy comforter, or next to a parent who’s had a few.

A baby’s unsuspecting, fat hand inching toward a MEAT CLEAVER.

Here’s what annoys me about advertisements like these– it’s the way marketers think they have to speak to mothers. (Okay, parents, but you know it’s the mother-guilt they’re always after). They think we’re such flipping idiots that they have to completely sensationalize. Co-sleeping is the same as handing your baby a giant knife! It’s totally, exactly the same! They think we’re incapable of understanding nuance, of handling anything with a gray area– and as anyone who’s been a parent for a day and a half can tell you, parenting is all about the gray areas.

I never co-slept with my first, but with my second and third, I did. Half the night. In another room from my husband. Sometimes. And I didn’t surround my babies with Princess-and-the-Pea levels of downy softness, and I put them on their backs, and I gave them a whole half of a queen-sized bed just to be safe, and when I had toddlers to get up for the day with at six a.m., I think it may have saved my life.

This ad would have done nothing to make me change that behavior– it would have only made me feel really, really bad about myself, even though I was taking all the proper precautions. This ad is short on useful information and LONG on guilt. Making it black and white– all co-sleeping, ever, is basically almost-murder– is not news you can use.

It’s always this way. Overly ardent breastfeeding advocates talk about “nipple confusion” and how any bottle, EVER, will ruin nursing, because they think mothers can’t handle the honest truth: that the occasional bottle can be a lifesaver, and might even help you nurse longer. Pediatric cough medicines were taken off the market entirely¬†in 2008 because a few children were given overdoses. Of course that’s not good, but rather than inform the public and trust most of us to dose our children safely, the medicines were taken away forever (and toddlers are up all night with hacky coughs). Or how about the repeated studies telling us children under two should never, ever watch television? Read the fine print: it’s not because the TV waves warp their tiny brains. It’s because “there is no discernible benefit” (italics mine). It’s because we’re supposed to doing Mandarin flash cards with them all day instead. And it’s not like Mom ever has to take a shower or anything, right?

But the real danger of ad campaigns like this, I think, is that sooner or later most mothers figure all of this out for ourselves: this is ridiculous. And so we stop paying attention. We give ads like this one an eye-roll. And the underlying message of the Milwaukee Health Department– which IS important, if ham-handedly presented– gets missed entirely.

So I’ll take a minute here for this more useful safety reminder: if you choose to co-sleep with your baby, they are ¬†safest in one of those doohickeys that attach to the side of an adult bed, rather than where Mom or Dad might roll on top of them. All babies should sleep on their backs. All babies shouldn’t sleep on anything too fluffy. There, parents– do you think you can handle that?

Do you (or did you) co-sleep with your baby? Did you have mixed feelings about doing so?


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