Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Smug Mummy Soapbox: That Co-Sleeping Ad

Warning: serious post ahead (for once) 

I preemptively apologize for the serious tone here today; while I try to limit my few meaningful posts to significant global events like the Nordstrom anniversary sale, my proverbial panties are in a wad today over a slightly different matter. We'll get back to the fluffy side stat, pinky swear.

As you may have heard in the resultant media firestorm, the City of Milwaukee recently launched an ad campaign discouraging parents from co-sleeping with infants (for the Cheerfully Child-Free crowd, that means sleeping with baby in your own grown-up bed) - via an advertisement showing a sleeping baby next to a butcher knife, stating that co-sleeping can be just as dangerous.

Um, yeah. For reasons I'll get into in a second, I'm not posting the ad photo here; if you'd like to see it, you can click over to see it & the Huffington Post coverage here.

Here at the Pretty we have some future Mommy Mafia readers, as well as some of my dear parent friends who have co-slept with their babies, so I'm compelled to use my Pretty platform today to say this - I find this ad needlessly provocative, ill-informed, and divisive. It makes me deeply angry and sad for my dear friends, all informed and loving parents, who either by preference or by necessity (a baby who won't sleep anywhere else counts as a necessity to this blogger), made the educated decision to co-sleep with their infant.

I realize such things may be put out there to do just this - provoke discussion. If so, reluctant golf claps for succeeding on that front. If it takes a shocking visual to save one child's life, then I can see how this sort of scare tactic might be a success; my discomfort is not more important than the life of a child, of course. In a way it brings to mind the "This is your brain on drugs"  ads with the fried egg visual we children of the 80s may remember.

What bothers me here, however is twofold: first, that the ad contains zero facts to substantiate its claim, or even a website where a new parent might go to educate themselves on the issue. It merely lists a number that parents can call to obtain a free crib if they can't afford one. That's good, but many infants - Master P included - won't sleep in a crib during those early months. I absolutely agree that those choosing to co-sleep need to educate themselves on how to do it as safely as possible, but this ad does nothing to give a parent that information - it simply tells them to put the infant to sleep on his/her back (a safety practice I followed, after researching & talking to my pediatrician) and gave that number to obtain the crib.

Second, I'm angry on behalf of my friends who, having made the educated decision to co-sleep, are essentially being equated to murderers. It's bad enough the shame they have had to endure just from other meddling moms about the practice; many co-sleeping friends have told me in hushed tones they felt they had to remain "closeted" about the practice. The Parenting Police is bad enough, but when it comes on the taxpayer dime like this, I find it unconscionable and will not put that sort of visual guilt up here.

My message to future and new parents is this: educate yourself about the sleep & safety issue, and make the best decision for your child and your family. Read up, talk to other parents, and find a pediatrician you trust who will answer your questions about it. There is no blanket, one-size-fits-all answer here - and if there were, surely it wouldn't involve needlessly disturbing visuals of babies next to butcher knives.

Please repeat after me, class - we most of us are just doing the best we can as parents to raise our children in the safest, most loving, most enriching environment possible. Whether it's the age-old breastfeeding debate or this one, let's just try to be informed about our own choices and understanding when the best choice for someone else might be different.

Are there any marketing people in the audience who might help me understand how this sort of ad happens? Anyone who has co-slept or is doing it now care to chime in? Am I missing something here?


Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

I'm in marketing and I co-slept some of the time, but was fearful the entire time. I think this ad is horrible, and strikes a chord with many moms - direct evidence as seen in your response. I'm sure a marketing/advertising firm came up somewhere and said - hey, we need to make this shocking so it will get people's attentions. We get pitched stuff like that all of the time at my company - of course shock and awe always gets attention, but it's up to the organization putting the ad out to make a moral decision as to how effective an ad can be while at the same time being tasteful. The message is strong, yes. But probably could and should have been communicated in a much different way, especially because of the subject nature. I remember the brain on drugs commercial. Yes, it was controversial, but was targeted mostly to teens - I could handle that. But babies, you don't mess with babies. We are so careful in our marketing at our organization when using anything that pictures or references babies because most of the time, babies in ads are just off limits unless you are selling a toy or something to take care of them. So all in all, what I'm trying to say is yes - the add makes sense in reality, but morally, the City should have said no, way, we can't go there.

Crown + Castle said...

The ad is definitely shocking. I saw it earlier in the day and did a double take. But since the ad is from a public health department, there must be a problem in Milwaukee with kids dying while sleeping in their parent's beds. An ad issued by a health department is different than an ad issued by Susie down the street, is what I'm trying to say - I think they are trying to address what must be a public health issue in that area. Co-sleeping is a controversial issue, for sure, and probably will continue to be. There would probably be people offended no matter what the ad looked like, for example, if it was just a poster that said "don't sleep with your baby" there would probably still be discussion. But not every ad is directed at everyone, and this ad is probably not directed at educated parents who are able to offer 100% safe co-sleeping options for their's directed at those women who may not be as knowledgeable. I agree that there should be more information in the ad on where to reach out for info!

Lilly said...

So glad you posted this. I have not yet seen the ad but I know it would have affected me as I plan to adopt and have looked into co-sleeping since I will not be able to breastfeed my child and want to share as many intimate moments as I can with my future CEO.

A while ago I saw an ad campaign at rec centers and a few billboards for vaccinations, "Not vaccinating a child is like not giving your child a hug," with a number for discounted immunizations. I felt the same was with that as you do about this campaign. Many people are choosing to withold vaccinations because they are caring parents and have heard things about the possible effects of them. (I have no opinion on vaccines and am not trying to give one here.) Where is the awareness campaign? Where are the numbers on children who are catching diseases these days that could have been prevented with vaccines? Where is the ingredient list that shows that there are no chemicals in the vaccines that will have negative longterm side effects? I concluded if the government thinks that this is how they can talk to us and expect us to all get in a single-file line behind it, they think we are vapid morons. A good lesson that no one is fully looking out for us or our children and the only people who can make these types of decisions for families at the end of the day is the mother and father.

Carly Anne said...

Leave it to Wisconsin...

AEOT said...

Spencer slept in our bed on occasion- mostly in the first few months when we would both fall asleep during a nursing session. I have read numerous scientific research articles as well as a great book by Dr. James McKenna (from Notre Dame), and, yes, there are times when cosleeping is dangerous (after drinking, doing drugs, if you smoke, if you have sleep apnea, anything that would cause you to sleep differently than a normal, healthy night's sleep), but for the most part, cosleeping is safe. Blair was definitely nervous about it at times, but when he saw how much more sleep we were able to get when Spencer was really little and cosleeping, he didn't mind it. It really wasn't a nightly thing for us, just an occasional "I'm so tired that I can't even keep my eyes open to see if he's eating" but I have ZERO guilt for doing it. And I do not judge others for doing it if they do it in a safe manner AND have researched it. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I would be very careful about recommending it to parents because I wouldn't want to EVER get sued for having said that it's safe as I cannot control the practices in someone's home. However, if I knew that a pt of mine was cosleeping, I would make sure they were as educated as possible. I'm sure, as someone said above, it was all about the shock factor, but to me, this was not appropriate. A knife? Next to a baby????? Really? I understand that they don't want people cosleeping because of the few times that bad results can occur but education is the best way to handle this.

Perfectly Imperfect said...

Back home, the city did a few anti-drug billboards that were VERY similar to this. One entailed a more than disgusting bathroom that said something along the lines of "Bet you never thought you'd lose your virginity here" and another I remember was a very, very graphic wreck that said something about a baby dying due to another driver being high. They were awful. BUT, they made me stop and think and I'm hopeful they did for others as well. They actually shook me to the core. What was different was they offered a number for counseling and a website and some facts; all on the billboard. This current ad? does not.

I find it disturbing that they group together all sorts of "co-sleeping" with this sort of campaign. That parents that co-sleep are irresponsible. It's wrong. If you want to get a point across about the dangers of co-sleeping, this isn't it.

I get their point, but I think they went about it the wrong way. Try again people. Co-sleeping is dangerous if the parents aren't careful. Maybe try a different route to educate those that don't know how to go about that.

Jessica said...

I cannot believe someone would put that on television! I understand their concern but to bring it to that level is really gross. I did some co-sleeping with my baby girl early on and it was a beautiful special time that I'll always remember.

Rachel said...

For the first two months of Connor's life he slept in his pack-and-play. After a bout with meningitis - requiring two spinal taps, lots of other nasty procedures, and a hospital stay - he REFUSED to sleep anywhere but right in between us! I was already back to work and we HAD to have sleep.

We were totally unprepared for this situation, so I researched. I visited websites, I read books, I (GASP!) even talked to our pediatrician about it. She was supportive and offered a wealth of advice on 'how-to' and 'how-to-not.'

It's definitely important to understand all of the facts, but I think that is important with any parenting topic. Personally, I don't think that ad is necessary. In addition, I agree that IF they find it necessary to use that ad - it should definitely include some educational links or facts regarding the practice.

Great post! :)

Jessica said...

I hadn't seen the ad - and I think it's disgusting. We co-slept - SAFELY - when J was young and I don't regret it for a second. We all sleep better now when she's in her crib but I remember trying to convince my (childless) pedi that we were sleeping safely those first few months and how ridiculous the whole run-around felt.

I just wish from the bottom of my heart that people would get freaking informed about the decisions they make for their child. If you've read the research, great. If you're basing how you parent your child on your "feelings" and the subliminal messages you receive from other parents and advertising, then shame on you.

Naptime in Suburbia said...

I saw this ad the other day, and was horrified.

We don't co-sleep at night, but there have been several mornings that I've brought the baby into bed with me after Hubs leaves for work because it buys me a bit more sleep. I've often said to my husband that I wish we could have him sleep with us because he sleeps more soundly, but both Hubs and I can be restless sleepers.

At the very least (as you mentioned), there should be some sort of accompanying data with the image of an infant sleeping next to a butcher knife or a meat cleaver.

Stephanie said...

I coslept happily with my daughter when she was born in 2000 until my pediatrician told me to stop when she was 10 wks old. It broke my heart to do so; she was an easy baby and slept through the night two weeks later. I wish I'd ignored the doctor and continued to cosleep, but things turned out fine.

I read copiously before the birth of my son in 2005. I especially liked what James McKenna said on the topic (mother's breath helping stimulate baby's breathing). My son was a fussy baby (his nickname was Crabcake) and nursed frequently. He was not a sleeper for the first five years of his life.

I slept with him for a full 18 months. It was the only way both of us could get sleep while he nursed. Each of my children had a full-sized bed in the nursery, so I had plenty of room. When my son and I coslept, I kept covers at a minimum and wore heavier pajamas if I feared cold.

Do what works for you and be safe.

bride4life said...

Last Thursday....a friend of mine was co-sleeping with her 7-week old, rolled over on him, suffocated him, and he passed away. This topic is really fresh on my mind right now. Is it worth the risk?

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