Thanks to Annie at PhD in Parenting for making me aware of a recent Fox News story about co-sleeping. I was able to track down the ad from the Indiana Department of Child Services that is meant to “encourage” people to put their baby in a crib.
This ad is positively outrageous! Talk about fear-based marketing. The fact is that many cities health departments are taking a strong stand against the time-honored[1. Over 90% of the world co-sleeps – see Young, J. (1998). Babies and bedsharing…. Cosleeping. Midwifery Digest, 8, 364-369.] tradition of bed sharing. Handing out T-shirts like this to new parents:
Despite ample research to dispel cosleeping myths and the proven benefits, the American Academy of Pediatrics still advises against cosleeping rather than acknowledging it and providing safe co-sleeping guidelines. Some even believe it should be illegal. This news story on a local Fox affiliate recently aired regarding the cosleeping debate:
First, I am really happy with the balanced approach in this story. Usually the media doesn’t get an expert like McKenna to show the other side of the story and I applaud Fox for this (gasp! it was almost Fair and Balanced). However, they never show the real comparison of children who died in a parents bed vs. children who died in a crib. Reminds me of vaccination trials where the placebo is another vaccine as opposed to an unvaccinated individual.
Most shocking though was this question.
What did 100% of the cases in the story’s sample have in common?
Would you believe C? That’s right, ALL of the cases were in formula fed infants. This isn’t to say that the formula caused the death or that formula fed parents don’t care but there are some specific circumstances that can make these kids more prone to bed-related deaths[2. I believe that with proper education a formula feeding family could safely cosleep.]. The video mentions positioning and waking of the mother but also the frequent wakings of the child. Formula takes longer to digest and thus those children sleep for longer stretches than breastfed babies and often sleep deeper – causing an increase in SIDS deaths as well. Please note that A, B, and D are also dangerous situations for infants.
The other issue brought up in the piece is about socio-economic status. Statistically, more bed-related deaths occur in poorer and often unstable homes. Once again this is a correlation not a causal relationship. I was flabbergasted at the health department woman’s assertion that she shouldn’t even have to think about different types of people. Seriously? How do you serve a population and remain blind to the demographics? I really liked the woman from the community program. She, correctly, points out that ignoring the reality of the situations at home only drives these already underserved people further away from the services that can help them. Not that Ms. Health Department Chick cares.
I’m just shocked at the lack of evidence-based advice that the AAP and various health departments are spewing. This willful ignorance harms babies and children. Did you hear the story in the begining? I hear this time and again in such stories. A mother brings her baby to bed as a last resort and falls asleep. This is vastly different from the other family, who, like me, researched and then choose to cosleep. It isn’t a last resort of the exhausted but a well thought out, planned, and safe situation.
By focusing ONLY on getting people to be afraid of cosleeping we don’t help save babies – we put them in further danger of unsafe sleep conditions.