The City of Milwaukee, with the help of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has made an effort to raise awareness about what it terms "cosleeping deaths" in the City. Over the past year and a half, the Journal has reported case after case of babies dying as a result of being crushed or suffocated while sleeping in a bed or on a sofa with a parent. The Milwaukee Health Department's response has been to launch a new campaign urging parents not to cosleep at all, and offering a Pack n Play as a safe sleep location alternative for families who cannot afford a crib. I saw the first anti-cosleeping television spot this morning.
I'll say it: I have a big problem with this.
Let me explain why, by way of analogy: Remember abstinence-only education? Abstinence-only sex education focuses only on abstinence from sex. It excludes information about birth control, safe sex, and other sexual and reproductive health education. The impetus behind this is the assumption that if we tell young people about contraception and safe sex, they will think it is okay to have sex. This method of sex education has been widely criticized by opponents who say that if teenagers want to have sex, they will, and the best sex education advises them of the safe sex options that are available so that if they do have sex they will be prepared.
Milwaukee's "all cosleeping is bad" approach is very much like abstinence-only education. Some parents are going to cosleep no matter what the television says. Instead of telling them that they are bad parents who are going to kill their children (the "abstinence-only" approach), let's educate them on the safe methods of cosleeping. It is abundantly clear from the reported cosleeping deaths that the parents involved were not educated on safe cosleeping,* as the deaths often involve alcohol, drug use, or a poor sleep location such as a couch.
Frustratingly, the Milwaukee Health Department doesn't even appear to acknowledge that there are safe methods for cosleeping. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Snuggle Nest, an infant "bed" that fits safely on an adult bed. Other parents find the Arms Reach Cosleeper a wonderful alternative. Yet the Health Department is silent on these alternatives, hoping instead that parents who could otherwise cosleep safely will instead resign their child to a crib and ignoring the idea that many will simply disregard the public service announcements and continue to sleep unsafely on the sofa with their infant.
*Obviously, the alternate explanation is that the parents involved just don't care, and no amount of education or PSAs will change that.