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Dear Milwaukee,

Posted by on November 10, 2011

Dear Mayor Tom Barrett,

Parenting with a happy conscience.

Your new campaign to improve the mortality rate of infants in your city has been brought to my attention; specifically, your posters depicting infants sleeping with knives in beds.  To be honest, I find your ads offensive.  Your ads vilify people like me.  Who am I?  So glad you asked.   I graduated with a degree in education suma cum-laude from one of my state’s three prominent universities.  I am currently a graduate school student pursuing a degree in early childhood education.  Most importantly, I am a mother.  I have two healthy, beautiful boys.

I take really good care of my boys.  I stay at home to take care of them.  I make sure they eat healthy food and have regular well checks from their pediatrician.  I also provide them with developmentally appropriate learning activities, and I make sure that I treat them with the respect they deserve.  My oldest son, who happens to be 4 years old, loves to play high energy sports, and he also enjoys learning about dinosaurs.  My 5 month old, well, right now he is pretty interested in breastfeeding; a practice I know that you support.

I guess that up to this point the two of us could go bowling and get along fine; however, we differ in regards to where we each think the best place for a baby to sleep should be.  I, personally, have had both of my children sleep in my bed since they were born.  It wasn’t due to not having a crib; in fact, we had two with my firstborn and currently have one unused one with my second child.  I chose to have my children sleep with me in my bed for several reasons, such as:

  • Co-sleeping or bed sharing (let’s just call it co-sleeping so that we do not get caught up in the vernacular too much) helps facilitate breastfeeding.
  • When a mother and child co-sleep, the infant’s breathing cycle mimics that of the mother’s which helps prevent an infant from ceasing to breath while sleeping, which may help prevent SIDS.
  • Co-sleeping prevents an infant from unnecessary stress caused by separation from the mother, which may or may not help prevent SIDS.
  • Co-sleeping helps a breastfeeding mother get more sleep throughout the night, which in turn makes for a healthier and happier mother.
I understand that it is possible for an infant to die in a bed; just like I am sure you understand that an infant can die alone in crib.  Are you aware that it is possible to sleep with an infant in your bed in  very safe manner?  You should be.  Chances are your grandparents or even your own parents spent their infancy in a family bed.  If you are unaware, here are some guidelines for practicing safe co-sleeping.  And here are the guidelines that I personally follow.
  • The bed should be free from excess blankets and pillows and low to the ground.
  • The child should be on his or her back.
  • The bed should not be situated in such a way that a child could roll and become trapped between the bed and the wall, and mesh guard rails can  be used to prevent a child from rolling off the bed.
  • The parent or parents sleeping in the bed with the child should not smoke in the same room as the child, nor should their clothes or bodies smell of smoke or other strong scents, as these smells can affect the breathing of the child.
  • The parent or parents should never drink heavily prior to sleeping in the bed with the child, nor should they take medication that might make them sleep heavier than normal thereby preventing them from waking when and if the child should awake in the middle of the night.
  • The bed should be flat and supportive.
You were quoted by your local newspaper, The Journal Sentinel, as saying that “ 30 developed and underdeveloped countries have better (infant death) rates than Milwaukee.”  I don’t know which countries you are referring to; however, I hope you are aware that the majority of non-western countries bed share.  Countries like India, China and Sweden commonly bed share, and I don’t know if you have checked out China’s population lately, but they definitely have a lot of people over there for a country that practices such a “dangerous” method of child rearing.  But let’s not get carried away with copying too much of what China does.  I do plan on having more children someday and like the option to do so.  What can I say?  I’m the kind of gal that likes to have my cake and eat it too.
I appreciate what you are trying to do.  You are trying to save the lives of babies.  Who doesn’t want to do that?  My qualm is that by vilifying those who co-sleep you aren’t actually saving the life of a baby.  Your campaign is using fear tactics, and as a teacher, and human being for that matter, I know that you cannot educate a person by scaring them.  Why not instead present information that is widely available from experts such as Dr. James J. McKenna on how to properly co sleep?
I know what you are going to say.  You are going to say that you have been advised that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not have any sort of guidelines describing safe co sleeping practices.  You’re right.  I have to tell you, though, that people were having babies and raising babies long before there was an academy to tell them how to have them and how to raise them.  I understand, though, that it probably isn’t too popular to go against the grain and promote something that isn’t promoted by the AAP.  So, instead, can you just take down your crazy posters and come up with ones that are a bit more accurate and educational?  Need some ideas?  Here you go.
  • How about a poster that shows a baby sleeping on its back without excess pillows and blankets around it?
  • How about a poster telling parents of newborns not to drink heavily as it might impair their ability to parent?
  • How about a poster that says it is not a good idea to smoke in the same room or home as a baby?
  • Or how about a poster that simply asks parents to think about the environment that their baby sleeps in?
Those are just a few off the top of my head because in all honesty, I don’t think people are going to stop co sleeping.  We are mammals after all.  Sleeping with our young is kind of our thing.  That is why you don’t see too many gorillas buying cribs.  And if you really do have to go after the co sleeping population, can you at least be fair and balanced and create a poster of a dog sleeping with a knife in a bed?  I don’t know if you are aware, but lots of people like to sleep with their dogs in their beds.  Again, we’re mammals.  It is kind of our thing.
P.S.  I mean no disrespect to you whatsoever.  I think what you are trying to do is highly commendable, and I hope you are mayor for many years to come.  We need more people to care about the well being of children.  Let’s just make it less about fear and more about education.
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This is the last thing I'm going to say about this topic...really.

Say what you want about the co-sleeping ad, but please don't bad mouth mayor Tom Barrett (I'm mostly referencing facebook comments). Putting out this ad doesn't make him a bad person. He is a great mayor and a decent human being.

This attack happened over 2 years ago and the mayor is still undergoing surgeries on his hand.

Maybe the ad sucks, but the mayor of Milwaukee does not.

That's it. I'm done.

I have no beef with Mayor Barrett. If you check my post script, I actually say that I hope he stays in office for sometime. I have beef with the use of inciting fear to effect change instead of taking the opportunity to educate. I am simply speaking my peace, as a co sleeper for other co sleepers who may be vilified due to this campaign.

As a single parent, I I would not have made it without my baby being in my bed. It was so easy to roll over and pop a breast in his mouth. In fact, he didn't stop nursing until he was 4!

You are so right about the synchronized breathing. IF my son stopped breathing I would awaken. In fact, I usually woke up just seconds before he would start to fuss.

Maybe the mayor should worry about drive by shootings, spousal abuse, and bullying. But, then, he might have to browbeat someone who hits back.

Love it! A little bit of sass with a lotta bit of sense!


  1. [...] wrote about this campaign last week when I created a letter that I sent to Mayor Tom Barrett in regards to the ads that were unveiled last week that displayed [...]