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?

 

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kdysart November 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

I chose not to co-sleep because, A: I’m a restless sleeper and didn’t want to squash her, B: My friends who did the co-sleep thing still had kids in bed with them at age 2+, and C: our room was small enough that her bassinet was just two steps from my bed.   Honestly, “B” was the biggest reason — the hubby and I wanted our privacy back asap. 

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ElspethHM November 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm

We co-slept with our only son without incident. I loved it and it of course made breastfeeding easier. He did manage to sleep in his own bed when we were all ready for him to make that move. That transition was all about our ability to be steadfast in the decision and be consistent in reinforcing when and why he went to his own room. I now have a happy, healthy, non-clingy, independent, stubborn, awesome 8-year old who still crawls in bed with me on the occassional very early Saturday morning. I treasure these cuddly moments and know that there won’t be many of them left.  

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Msenula November 21, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Do they think a womans IQ drops 20 points when they become a mother???!!! Let’s get real here, so ridiculous. I hate the image of that beautiful child near that knife, evokes a horrible feeling! I have never co-slept w/ any of my 3 babies, only for the fact that my husband is such a restless sleeper. OK, we get it already!
Linda

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The Tired Mother November 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I was the biggest anti-co sleeper that ever was, until I had a child that didn’t sleep.  Ever.  Then it was either that, or lock me in an institution.  After my first, we co-slept with all four of our kids, without incident.  And in all those years, nobody ever woke up and found a meat cleaver in the bed.

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Angela November 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

So offensive. Why are mothers constantly treated like morons???? Pisses me off. I coslept w both kids whom neither slept. If I didn’t I may have gone even more insane than anyone w a newborn. Scare tactics don’t work, media nut jobs. Wake up!

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Lneumannca November 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Love this column! All excellent points, including your comments about the TV and “no bottles ever because it will destroy your nursing relationship”. I think that health authorities truly do not understand what it is like to parent young babies – especially ones that won’t sleep, eat, or do anything except when attached to you (like my first).
I co-slept with both my kids – after reading all available research on how to do it safely. For my first we bought a king-sized mattress that went on the floor. She slept on her back next to me with no blankets or pillows near by. It was a life saver! With my second we attached a crib to the bed so that he would have his own sleep surface, but could still be next to me. I always knew where my baby was and how she/he was doing. I always felt like I was aware of them enough not to roll on top of them. Neither one was ever near my husband in bed.

The only sleep experience that really scared me was when I was so tired I accidentally fell asleep holding the baby in my lap on a chair. He was fine, but I worried about how he could have fallen/slipped down etc. I think it would be far worse to have NO information about safe co-sleeping and then do it on a casual basis in an unsafe location because you are so darned tired! Much better to be prepared and co-sleep in a safe way! This is where campaigns like this fall down (in my opinion). Co-sleeping is likely going to happen. Give mothers the information they need to make it safe!

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Ann November 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I love this post. Not only did I co-sleep out of desperation, but I filed my babies fingernails with a meat cleaver.

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Stephlivengood November 22, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Great discussion. I personally have not co-slept with either of my children just because it’s never been an issue. But the add is (I’ll just call it like I see it), stupid. Granted there are some really questionable mothers out there so I will assume that there is an epidemic in the city of Milwaukee that has caused them to reach out.

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Barb November 27, 2011 at 7:55 am

I co-slept with both of my children… the first in one of those little snuggly nests with mesh siding on top of the bed, the second tucked neatly into the crook of my arm.  And as a single mother co-sleeping saved my sanity when they were little, and even now as they are one and nearly four, when we’re traveling they are both in bed with me.  It is sometimes the only way I’ll get any sleep.  I think there was some value in a slight amount of fear about the whole thing, because it did make me take precautions and understand what all the potential dangers were.  But I completely agree about over-the-top mommy fear.  I don’t know why but in some ways it makes me think of Naomi Wolf’s book from the 90’2… Backlash… and the way that the media manipulates women and the messages we receive as women and as mothers.

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Mrsvargas17 November 30, 2011 at 4:52 am

The problem in Milwaukee is that parents aren’t smart enough to do it the right way. The city has the highest mortality rate for infants in the country. I think they were trying anything to get people to listen. Still after the ads have been out there have been some deaths. It’s so sad that parents can’t be responsible.

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Courtney January 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Oh, I just saw this post and can’t wait to comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but had my second baby in November and haven’t had time until now.

I live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. I know the creative director who created this campaign. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it probably isn’t targeted to YOU, a wealthy white woman in New York City who knows how to safely co-sleep. But it has its audience in Milwaukee, and people are talking about it. I work at a non-profit for domestic violence victims, and a lot of our clients are the target audience for this ad campaign. A lot of them live in the zip codes where these infants are dying because of co-sleeping. These babies are dying while being smashed into a couch, laying next to their mom, sister, and older brother. Drugs, alochol and poverty are killing these co-sleeping babies.THAT is what we are dealing with here in Milwaukee. Not the co-sleeping breastfeeding mom.

I am very proud that people in our city had the guts to create something like this to get people talking. Even if it saves ONE baby, it has succeeded.

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Courtney January 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Oh, I just saw this post and can’t wait to comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but had my second baby in November and haven’t had time until now.

I live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. I know the creative director who created this campaign. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it probably isn’t targeted to YOU, a wealthy white woman in New York City who knows how to safely co-sleep. But it has its audience in Milwaukee, and people are talking about it. I work at a non-profit for domestic violence victims, and a lot of our clients are the target audience for this ad campaign. A lot of them live in the zip codes where these infants are dying because of co-sleeping. These babies are dying while being smashed into a couch, laying next to their mom, sister, and older brother. Drugs, alochol and poverty are killing these co-sleeping babies.THAT is what we are dealing with here in Milwaukee. Not the co-sleeping breastfeeding mom.

I am very proud that people in our city had the guts to create something like this to get people talking. Even if it saves ONE baby, it has succeeded.

Reply

Courtney January 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Oh, I just saw this post and can’t wait to comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but had my second baby in November and haven’t had time until now.

I live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. I know the creative director who created this campaign. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it probably isn’t targeted to YOU, a wealthy white woman in New York City who knows how to safely co-sleep. But it has its audience in Milwaukee, and people are talking about it. I work at a non-profit for domestic violence victims, and a lot of our clients are the target audience for this ad campaign. A lot of them live in the zip codes where these infants are dying because of co-sleeping. These babies are dying while being smashed into a couch, laying next to their mom, sister, and older brother. Drugs, alochol and poverty are killing these co-sleeping babies.THAT is what we are dealing with here in Milwaukee. Not the co-sleeping breastfeeding mom.

I am very proud that people in our city had the guts to create something like this to get people talking. Even if it saves ONE baby, it has succeeded.

Reply

Courtney January 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Oh, I just saw this post and can’t wait to comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but had my second baby in November and haven’t had time until now.

I live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. I know the creative director who created this campaign. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it probably isn’t targeted to YOU, a wealthy white woman in New York City who knows how to safely co-sleep. But it has its audience in Milwaukee, and people are talking about it. I work at a non-profit for domestic violence victims, and a lot of our clients are the target audience for this ad campaign. A lot of them live in the zip codes where these infants are dying because of co-sleeping. These babies are dying while being smashed into a couch, laying next to their mom, sister, and older brother. Drugs, alochol and poverty are killing these co-sleeping babies.THAT is what we are dealing with here in Milwaukee. Not the co-sleeping breastfeeding mom.

I am very proud that people in our city had the guts to create something like this to get people talking. Even if it saves ONE baby, it has succeeded.

Reply

Courtney January 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Oh, I just saw this post and can’t wait to comment. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but had my second baby in November and haven’t had time until now.

I live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. I know the creative director who created this campaign. Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it probably isn’t targeted to YOU, a wealthy white woman in New York City who knows how to safely co-sleep. But it has its audience in Milwaukee, and people are talking about it. I work at a non-profit for domestic violence victims, and a lot of our clients are the target audience for this ad campaign. A lot of them live in the zip codes where these infants are dying because of co-sleeping. These babies are dying while being smashed into a couch, laying next to their mom, sister, and older brother. Drugs, alochol and poverty are killing these co-sleeping babies.THAT is what we are dealing with here in Milwaukee. Not the co-sleeping breastfeeding mom.

I am very proud that people in our city had the guts to create something like this to get people talking. Even if it saves ONE baby, it has succeeded.

Reply

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