Milwaukee Ads Wake Parents Up to Risks of Co-Sleeping

(Milwaukee Health Department)

As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the campaign, unveiled last Wednesday, includes two posters of a baby lying in a bed next to a large knife. In one, the baby is white; in the other, the baby is black. “YOUR BABY SLEEPING NEXT TO YOU CAN BE JUST AS DANGEROUS,” the copy blares.

The second-leading cause of infant mortality in Milwaukee is SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, which often results from  ”unsafe sleep,” according to the health department’s website. A form of “unsafe sleep” is bed-sharing with parents.

“Is it shocking? Is it provocative?” asked Bevan Baker, the city’s commissioner of health,  according to the Journal Sentinel. ”Yes. But what is even more shocking and provocative is that 30 developed and underdeveloped countries have better [infant death] rates than Milwaukee.”

The Journal Sentinel said Milwaukee had an “infant mortality crisis.” Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate in 2009 was 10.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births, according to the city’s health department. As noteworthy as this overall rate is the racial breakdown: For white babies, the rate was 5.4; for blacks, 14.1, the JS said.

The city has set a goal of reducing the infant mortality rate for blacks by 15 percent, and the overall rate by 10 percent by 2017, the JS said.

“Shame on Milwaukee Co-Sleeping Ads” was the title of Danielle625's post on Baby’s First Year, a blog on the parenting website Babble. She co-slept with her three children and said co-sleeping — when “done safely” — was harmless, even beneficial, citing a page on the prominent parenting website Ask Dr. Sears.

A commenter on the post wrote: “As a Milwaukee resident and co-sleeper, I am hardly fazed by these ads. Milwaukee has an extremely high infant mortality rate and an alarming African American infant mortality rate. Unsafe sleeping conditions have been cited as a contributing factor to that rate.”

Raquel Filmanowicz, communications officer for the Milwaukee Health Department, said the city ran similarly provocative ads a year and a half ago, and received an overwhelmingly positive response. All ads follow up on the initial shock they may cause by offering a phone number for parents to call to receive a free Pack ‘N Play, a collapsible crib, she said.

“I’ll take some heat,” Mayor Tom Barrett told ABC News. ”Some ZIP codes in Milwaukee have infant mortality rates higher than Third World countries. That’s unacceptable.”

“If the ads make some people uncomfortable, I guarantee it’s a lot less uncomfortable than having another baby die from co-sleeping,” a cause of death that is “so preventable,” he added.