ASSIGNMENT 13: The Family Bed

By: Jenny You Email
By: Jenny You Email

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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  • by EC Mommy Location: EC on Feb 27, 2012 at 03:52 PM
    I Co-Slept with my second only while she was a newborn. She would not sleep any other way. BELIEVE me... I tired. After a while it was just easier to have her sleep in bed with us. I made sure I was educated on the subject. I also know my sleeping habits, and those of my husband. I think that everyone should educated themselves before making the decision to co-sleep. Both parents should also feel comfortable having baby in bed with them. My daughter is now 11 months old and sleeping fine in her own crib. She is alive and well. :)
  • by Jimmy Location: Menomonie on Feb 27, 2012 at 01:20 PM
    To all those defending these deaths, try telling that to the parents.
  • by Mom of 2 on Feb 26, 2012 at 11:16 AM
    I co slept with each of my babies. I have a full time job and in order to find enough sleep at night while they were nursing I just let them sleep in the middle. Just like anything else...if you're educated on the subject and do it correctly it will work out. I think that every parent only wants the best for their children and all need to make their own decisions on what works best. Be kind to each other.
  • by mackenzi on Feb 25, 2012 at 09:39 PM
    I have Co sleep with my son since day one. He is now a year old and still gets up and nurses at night something. Its just easier for him to sleep with me at that point. He also has bumpers on his crib and sleeps on his stomach. Its my choice as a parent. I am a light sleeped and check on him before I go to bed. So my Co sleeping is great. My son loves his mommy time
  • by Amanda Location: Chippewa Falls on Feb 25, 2012 at 05:10 PM
    Funny that most countries practice co sleeping and in America is where the most problems happen.
  • by debbie Location: Eau Claire on Feb 25, 2012 at 04:44 PM
    I have 5 children who are all adults now. I breastfed all of them for at least 13 months, and coslept with them as well. If my baby's breathing pattern changed even slightly, I would awaken instantly during those years. I doubt I would have been so closely attuned to the needs of a baby sleeping in a crib in another room. It's easier for the baby and the mother to nurse while lying down, and we usually fell back asleep together anyway. I do not regret having a family bed, and even welcomed one of the older children to join us now and then. I am very close to all 5 of my children, and that is a good thing.
  • by Its a personal choice Location: Eau Claire on Feb 24, 2012 at 06:56 PM
    Co-sleeping, like baby wearing, cloth diapering or any other parenting choice is just that, a choice. So is placing a newborn baby, who had 24 hours a day warm and secure in the womb, into a cold crib all alone. Informed, educated decisions on what works for you and your family and not judging other choices. Who is calling out the 'bad' parents whose kids died of sids or crib related death? Are they bad parents for choosing that particular crib that would later be unsafe and cause their infants death?? Absolutely not. Is it a bad parent who's child died in a car accident when they chose to drive a certain route at a certain time to the grocery store? Has anyone compared the number of kids in Milwaukee that died from SIDS alone in their crib or trapped in a faulty crib to the # of co-sleeping deaths? Don't judge, do what works for you and yours. I personally like it both ways, depends on the day.
  • by Korinne Location: Augusta on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM
    I first strongly agree that parents have to be completely free so any drug influence legal, illegal, and alcohol included in that list. I also believe you have to know what type of sleeper you are. I am a terribly light sleeper; I wake up all the way whenever I roll over. My husband on the other hand sleeps so soundly he has occasionally rolled on top of me! You also need to be aware of how tired you are. If you are completely exhausted that is as dangerous as a sleeping pill for co sleeping. I have co slept with all 3 of my children during the 1st 3 months because they were EXTREMELY colicky and it was the only way to get sleep for either of us. I would first try at least 5-6 times to lay them down in their on beds first and I would not do it if my husband was in the bed (for the above stated reason. My youngest I co slept the most in the first month and it seemed to develop sleeping habits quicker than the other 2 who only co slept once a week or so. But I also have a very hard time recommending co sleeping because a friend of ours who co slept with her older 4 children lost her 5th baby to a co sleeping accident. I do not like to hear about any children dying, but is 11 precious babies lost to co sleeping that much more of a stat than to any other accident? (This is an actual question, I didn't know where to look for the information)
    • reply
      by Will on Feb 26, 2012 at 03:14 AM in reply to Korinne
      Good post Korinne. The single biggest risk other than the obvious drugs; is how light you sleep. If you sleep through the train running through town.. then don't sleep with your baby unless you want them dead. The details of these deaths are not known but I bet we will see many more when abortion is not a choice. Killing your baby in bed will happen and I am sad to say it but it must be said. People will kill their babies because they don't want them and it is physically easy to do. When you are "not" responsible for it and won't get in trouble then it will be easier to do. My kids slept with us as babies but we are very light sleepers. Accidents happen but if you don't wake up with the drop of a pin, maybe you shouldn't be sleeping with your baby and risking their lives. If you turn over and don't know you are rolling on your baby then get a clue. You don't have to sleep with them for them to be in the same room either. A baby is a huge responsibility and babies need all of your attention even when you think they don't. So many times you hear "I just stepped away for a second" Well a second was too long. For now; it is your choice and the choice should be different for everyone because we are all different. You may even choose different methods for different kids because we all change, we have different jobs that effect us and babies are not all the same. I am not saying these babies were intentionally killed, I am saying we need to make good decisions, the best we can.
  • by Tess Location: Manitowoc on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM
    What about all the babies that die from being in cribs with bumper guards? Or ones that are left to cry it out in a crib and choke on their vomit? What about all the science and studies proving that proper cosleeping is the safest place to sleep for a breastfeeding infant? Why is it that the countries that have high cosleeping rates have lower infant death rates? I could go on and on. Cosleeping is not bad. It needs to be done with proper safety precautions. So does crib sleeping - you have to do it safely. This campaign is ridiculous.
  • by Bertha Location: Wisconsin on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:30 AM
    If you wish to cosleep with your infant/baby/toddler, I urge you to educate yourself by reading about the 'cosleeping safety guidelines' that Dr. Sears makes available in his books and on his website. Changeable dangers practiced by the mommas such as drug use, obesity, and alcohol use are points to consider removing from your life for the safety of your little one. Nonchangeable dangers such as medical conditions requiring the use of drowziness-inducing medication (seizure medication, antidepressants, etc.) are reasons why a momma may not choose to cosleep. It is all common sense. I don't hear people so torn-up about the "dangers" of the family bed complain about the dangers of the crib every time there is a crib death (SIDS) which, consequently, have been proven can be prevented with the incorporation of the family bed and the on-demand breastfeeding and attachment-parenting this greatly facilitates.
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