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In Kids & Family Commentary

Have we become hardened to the fact of life that little babies keep dying in Milwaukee while they sleep with an adult?

We cannot get blase about co-sleeping deaths


"... And in other news ... a baby died again today after sleeping with an
adult ... and now the weather..."

That's kind of what it seems like. We have become hardened to the fact of life that little babies keep dying in Milwaukee while they sleep with an adult in the same bed, or on the same couch, or in the same chair, or on the same mattress on the floor, or on the floor itself.

We had another one this week. On North 28th Street. One month old. Dead. Sleeping on the same mattress with the mother.

When I read about the death I started to go backward, looking at the news coverage. There have been virtual media orgasms over it. And like any orgasm, then things calm down for quite awhile. Now the orgasms are a lot less ... intense.

Maybe we are tired of the story. Maybe our hearts have turned to lead. Maybe we just can't fact facts.

Here's a fact. The gap in infant mortality rates between black and white babies is just about the biggest gap in the country. It might be No. 1. How about that for a fact?

Remember those startling ads of a couple of years ago? The billboards and bus signs that showed a baby laying on a bed next to a meat cleaver. The message was that sleeping with a baby is very dangerous.

There was a ton of national conversation about the ads. Were they too frank? Would people be shocked? Were they heartless?

Well, those ads are all but gone, the conversation has grown quiet and the babies keep dying.

One of the things we have a lot of trouble dealing with is the fact that the
overwhelming majority of these deaths occur to black babies who are born into poor homes.

I saw a television report of a couple of years ago where the reporter found a
wonderful white family in Brookfield where all six or seven or eight of the children had shared a bed with the parents at one time or another. Then the reporter found a white mother in Milwaukee whose baby had died while sleeping with the father.

I can just hear the conversation where the news director tells the reporter
that "... we don't want to make black viewers angry, so see if you can find a white victim."

I don't have any answers about how to help solve this problem. There are people who have been working on it for a lifetime and they don't have any sure-fire answers either.

But one thing does cross my mind.

Years ago the country decided that a new mother couldn't drive home from the hospital unless she had an infant seat in the car. People who had money bought seats for people who didn't.

How about the same thing now? If you have a baby, you don't get to leave unless you can prove you've got something for your baby to sleep in, besides your bed. If you don't, we'll get people to donate cribs and bassinettes and Pack 'n Plays.

Like I say, no easy answers. But I do know one thing. We can't be afraid to say that there is a huge problem in the black community that is almost exclusively a black community problem.

Once we all understand that, we can get to work.

Talkbacks

mikeb | Sept. 14, 2012 at 5:43 p.m. (report)

Here's a thought. If you can't afford a crib, you probably can't afford a baby. I know, we shouldn't judge anyone or hold anyone to any minimal standards. I also don't see why it's that difficult to keep a bassinet right next to your bed whilst the baby is in the nursing stage. My wife and I did that with our two. You get all the convenience of the child be close by without any risk of possibly rolling over on the child.

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cassielee_83 | Sept. 14, 2012 at 3:13 p.m. (report)

Belle what is your point? Frankly there's no such thing as 100% safe parenting. Everyone has to make the best choice for their family. It's not fair to demonize co-sleeping. Just as it's not the answer to say give everyone who can't afford a crib a crib. The reason there are so many babies dying has less to do with co-sleeping and cribs and more to do with a series of poor choices. If this latest story is true as to what the parents claim to have happened, that the baby died of a true case of SIDS while lying in a bed next to a conscious mother, we're not only blaming the wrong variable for the deaths we are now assuming that all black babies in the city of Milwaukee that stopped breathing are now deaths cause by "irresponsible parenting" i.e. co-sleeping. Conversely, while an accident is an accident and babies do die of SIDS truly negligent parents should be held responsible, so the parents who are doing the right thing don't have to fall under the same stigma.

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belle123 | Sept. 14, 2012 at 12:37 p.m. (report)

Exactly my point - some parents think it's okay to sleep next to a baby so offering free cribs isn't the answer. Being that you are unconscious there is no such thing as 100% safe co-sleeping. I agree nursing is a wonderful bonding experience, but please take two extra minutes to place the baby in a crib next to your bed.

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Milly | Sept. 14, 2012 at 10:29 a.m. (report)

Thank you, cassielee_83. I co-slept with my sons until they were 5. (Then they easily transitioned into bunk beds.) There is a difference between intentional, researched co-sleeping (few pillows, *sober adults*) and passing out on a couch with an infant. For me, co-sleeping was a savior because I was nursing both boys and I could actually get a little more rest by staying in bed and keeping up with their all-night needs. And it was a wonderful bonding experience. I miss those days and it makes me sad that safe co-sleepers are sometimes perceived as negligent. So many other cultures co-sleep peacefully. Parents are so hard on other parents who don't share their views.

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cassielee_83 | Sept. 14, 2012 at 9:53 a.m. (report)

I co-slept with my daughter. Co-sleeping is really only a possible issue with SIDS. But they stopped calling these cases SIDS now they are called co-sleeping deaths, which is unfair. What needs to be recognized is how many of these babies we're sleeping with other children or parents under the influence. There is a huge difference between co-sleeping and compromised co-sleeping.

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