I was in Milwaukee this past weekend for a family function. There, my aunt handed me the opinion page of the Journal Sentinal because there was a great article on life and death (one that inspired a future blog post!) As I tend to do, once I finished the article, I headed to the “Letters to the Editor.” It was there that a letter from Barbara Collignon from Shorewood WI caught my eye:
Milwaukee’s infant mortality due to co-sleeping is an appalling tragedy.
Co-sleeping is a cultural practice in many countries, often countries where the climate is much warmer and people can sleep with children without using blankets. Some deaths in co-sleeping are due to a child becoming overheated or smothered in the blankets we in Milwaukee need for warmth.
If you want to reach mothers about the dangers of co-sleeping, go where they are.
Milwaukee has a large African-francophone population. Send bilingual women to hair-braiding salons to encourage the operators to talk to their clients about the risks of co-sleeping and infants sleeping with blankets and cushions. Put up bilingual posters in French and English. Ask hair-braiding salon operators to distribute informative fliers in these salons. Go to the day care centers and teach providers and parents about the risks.
Family Living classes in our high schools should include lessons on the dangers of co-sleeping. Homeroom classes where students meet for a few minutes a day every day could be used to spread the word. Churches and mosques need to devote time and effort to educating families on the dangers.
Everyone can spread the word.
In certain cultures bed-sharing is the common infant care practice and the SIDS prevalence is high. These include the black populations in the USA and the Maori and aboriginal populations in the Southern Hemisphere. Intriguingly, however, there are other cultures where bed-sharing is also the common practice but the SIDS rates are quite low, including Japan and Hong Kong, the Bangladeshi and Asian communities in the UK and Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand.3 It is not bed-sharing that distinguishes these cultures but there are other mediating factors such as maternal smoking, which is particularly low in Japan and Hong Kong11 and parental alcohol consumption, which is higher amongst the Maori and Aboriginal populations15,16 that may combine with co-sleeping and play a role in SIDS deaths. Another mediating factor might be the sleeping environment itself, the Japanese futon for instance, a firm thin mattress placed on the floor is intrinsically different from the elevated often softer mattresses used in Western societies. (emphasis mine)
- Bottle-feeding babies should always sleep alongside the mother on a separate surface rather than in the bed.
- If bed-sharing, ideally, both parents should agree and feel comfortable with the decision. Each bed-sharer should agree that he or she is equally responsible for the infant and acknowledge that the infant is present. My feeling is that both parents should think of themselves as primary caregivers.
- Infants a year or less should not sleep with other children siblings — but always with a person who can take responsibility for the infant being there;
- Persons on sedatives, medications or drugs, or is intoxicated – -or excessively unable to arouse should not cosleep on the same surface with the infant.
- Excessively long hair on the mother should be tied up to prevent infant entanglement around the infant’s neck — (yes, it has really happened!)
- Extremely obese persons, who may not feel where exactly or how close their infant is, may wish to have the infant sleep alongside but on a different surface.
- It is important to realize that the physical and social conditions under which infant-parent cosleeping occur, in all it’s diverse forms, can and will determine the risks or benefits of this behavior. What goes on in bed is what matters.
- It may be important to consider or reflect on whether you would think that you suffocated your baby if, under the most unlikely scenario, your baby died from SIDS while in your bed. Just as babies can die from SIDS in a risk free solitary sleep environment, it remains possible for a baby to die in a risk-free cosleeping/bed sharing environment. Just make sure, as much as this is possible, that you would not assume that , if the baby died, that either you or your spouse would think that bed-sharing contributed to the death, or that one of your really suffocated (by accident) the infant. It is worth thinking about.
Thoughts? Let me know here or on the FB page!