ASSIGNMENT 13: The Family Bed

ORIGINAL STORY: 2/26/2012

(WEAU) – Wisconsin’s largest city is in the national headlines again this week. Two more babies in Milwaukee died while co-sleeping with family members.

Milwaukee’s Health Department calls it their number one health concern.

The latest happened within hours of each other last Friday; a 2-month-old and a 4-month-old, both in different homes, essentially suffocated.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner says the 2-month-old boy was found unresponsive Friday morning with his 3-year-old brother on top of him. The baby had been in a bed with his brother, their mother, and the mother's boyfriend.

The mother told authorities the baby normally slept in a Pack `n Play but was brought into the bed because he was fussing.

Hours later, a 4-month-old girl was found unresponsive in a bed with her mother. The mother told authorities she had about three beers then fell asleep hours later. She woke up and the girl wasn't breathing.

Two others died earlier this year and at least 11 babies died last year in the city because of co-sleeping.

But is something as innocent as sleeping next to your own child always a deadly decision?

Jeannine Fisk of Eau Claire says being close to her child is just a simple joy in life.

“The very early morning he was born, I didn't want to let go of him. I wanted to hold onto him,” says Jeannine, mother to 1-year-old Logan.

Fisk is talking about an attachment that any loving parent would have with their newborn.

“I don’t think he got put down very much for about a week. He just slept with us, he slept on us, next to us,” she says Jeannine.

She calls it “bed sharing” while some also call it “co-sleeping.” Either way, it can mean a number of things whether it’s sharing the same bed with your child or having a crib next to or near the bed.

“It was a parental instinct,” says Jeannine. “I just thought it was the thing to do. I just wanted to be as close as possible. It’s the same thing with co-sleeping.”

Jeannine is a labor and postpartum doula, assisting parents in delivering their baby and helping them make the transition into parenthood.

Both Jeannine and husband Terry say they agreed upon co-sleeping even before Logan was born.

“A lot of times nursing moms like to co-sleep because it's just a little bit easier and sometimes people end up co-sleeping because of a crying baby in the night or just out of the ease getting in and out of bed a million times in the middle of the night,” says director of the Family Resource Center, Brook Berg.

But we’ve seen it in the headlines, much of it out of Milwaukee, involving more than 30 babies who were killed from suffocation or SIDS in the last three years, prompting Milwaukee to launch its very raw campaign against co-sleeping. It’s a campaign many advocates for co-sleeping disagree with.

“The way they're portraying co-sleeping is completely obscene. A fluffy bed number one is not a place to put a baby on, and next to a knife is just as bad, not just as bad, its worse,” says Jeannine.

The ad shows a baby sleeping in an adult bed with a butcher knife next to him. On the tagline, it says “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous.”

“For those people who believe its okay and do have a family bed or co-sleep, that can be really offensive to them to see it, because there are cases where it works out just fine and it benefits the family,” says Berg.

That means not all cases end up tragic. But for the ones that do, medical examiner reports show the majority of cases has a recurring theme.

“Making sure the parents are not smoking or using any type of alcohol, they're not on any type of medications. So they're not in the best state of mind that they can be,” says Berg.

Berg says parents have the choice to co-sleep, but it should be an educated choice.

“Research is showing that the risks outweigh the benefits of co-sleeping but again it’s all up to the parents’ choice. So we at the Family Resource Center especially are not here to say it is not okay to co-sleep but it isn't okay to co-sleep if you're not educated on the proper practices of it,” says Berg.

Parents like Jeannine and Terry are two of several parents in the community who have spoken to experts about bed sharing and read up on its risks, benefits and the how-to’s.

“The first thing a parent must do is make sure there’s no fluffy objects in the vicinity of the baby,” says Jeannine. ”Everybody has different sleeping patterns, unless you're aware of your sleeping pattern is and your tendency to wake up is, that’s why I got the arms reach crib.”

Another form of safe co-sleeping for the Fisks is using a convertible crib.

“We decided to move the crib into the bedroom, squished the crib between the wall and the bed and secure the mattress the safest way possible,” says Jeannine, allowing Logan to crawl from his crib to the bed whenever he wants to.

Jeannine also says as a mother, she feels that she has a natural connection to her son, which prompts her to wakeup if Logan experiences any irregular breathing or sudden movements.

For now, Jeannine says her son can share the family bed until he’s ready for his own room, which she hopes is in the near future.

“Informed choices, truly informed choices during pregnancy, child birth and child rearing are very important so that way we can do what’s best for our children and what’s best for our families,” says Jeannine.

Paula Pater with Safe Kids Chippewa Valley and Sacred Heart Hospital says, "We strongly encourage all parents to help prevent infant deaths by NOT allowing their children to sleep with them. It is not a safe practice for an adult to sleep with their infant whether it's in their bed, on a couch, or in a recliner. Not only have there been deaths related to the adult rolling on top of the child, but there have been deaths where the infant has rolled and been wedged in a cushion, blankets, etc. The child should always be placed in their own separate sleep environment. This can be a bassinet, pack and play, or their crib. The sleep space should be free of stuffed animals, bumper pads, loose sheets, and lots of blankets. It is actually encouraged that the infant sleep in something called a sleep sack."


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