Health Departments across the country have launched controversial campaigns over the past several years warning against the dangers of co-sleeping. (See Milwaukee’s shocking ad, below.)
The campaigns specifically target bed-sharing as dangerous. (In the case of the Milwaukee ads, parents who bed-share with their children are apparently considered homicidal maniacs). In addition to the alarming nature of some of the ads, also concerning is the strategic placement of the sleep campaign ads. The majority of the ads are placed in urban areas with high rates of poverty, making the subtext clear. Parents, specifically those of low socioeconomic class, are considered uneducable on the subject of safe sleep. So, instead of providing guidelines on safe sleep in all environments, the decision has been made by those in a position of authority, to use scare tactics to coerce parents into sleeping separately from their babies.
On another note, the campaign’s agenda grossly confuses SIDS with overlying and interchanges each concept inappropriately. SIDS and overlying are completely separate maladies, with overlying being entirely preventable if parents are given accurate information to make wise choices. Co-sleeping does not increase the risk of SIDS, in fact, research on the matter indicates just the opposite (Dr. Sears has always argued this statistic vehemently).
Additionally, this agenda fails to recognize the biologic and anthropologic normalcy of shared sleep. It was only when our civilization became industrialized that infants began to sleep separately from their parents. Which implores us to pause and consider how we, as a species, are biologically programmed to actually protect our children through shared sleep.
Dr. James McKenna, renowned co-sleeping authority notes that, “Merely having an infant sleeping in a room with a committed adult caregiver (cosleeping) reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one half!” (See his full essay, “Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone.)
So, the question this raises in my mind is this. Are children actually being protected by these ads, or, are they, in fact, being placed in greater danger because of the lack of safe sleep information? Many parents will choose to co-sleep for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is an intentional, well-thought out decision based on a style of parenting; other times parents stumble into sharing sleep as the only way to maintain a breastfeeding relationship and maintain necessary sleep for the family. For the former parents, it is very likely that they have independently sought out information on how to co-sleep safely. In the latter group, that initiative may not be as likely, and this is the group that these types of hyperbolized campaigns place at risk.
Mothers – particularly poor mothers – are being condescended and scrutinized by a paternalistic system that determines what is best for their children without full explanation. It is reminiscent of an authoritarian parent advising a child, “It may not make sense, but I know what’s best for you.”
Peggy O’Mara, editor in chief of Mothering Magazine sums a mother’s collective frustration up well. “Don’t ignore the validity of my personal experience. My baby is hard-wired to expect my touch. She believes that she and I are the same person, and wants to be with me all of the time. Don’t tell me that she is wrong and that you know better when you don’t even know her. Don’t tell me that my instincts and the innocent longings of my baby are wrong. I know better.” (See her full rant on the subject in this Salon article.)
I got onto this topic when, while driving with my children, my nine year old saw a billboard… see that post here.