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Edgy ad warns: Sleeping with infants is as risky as giving them a knife

by Zara Husaini
Jan 17, 2012


The city of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee's provocative ad aimed at preventing sudden infant death syndrome.

Babies sleeping with their parents may be in as much danger as if they were put to bed with a knife.

To make that point, the city of Milwaukee released an advertisement featuring an infant sleeping alongside a knife.

“The reason we chose to release this public service announcement is because we’ve been really pushing the issue,” said Anna Benton, director of Family and Community Health Services at the Milwaukee health department. “Fifteen to 20 babies probably would not die each year [in the city] if they were sleeping safely.”

The provocative ad focused on the habit of "co-sleeping" – when a child sleeps in the same bed as one or both parents. “People are very strong 'co-sleeping' advocates,” Benton said.

There are other seemingly innocuous behaviors that put infants at risk as well.

Benton referred to infant deaths relating to unsafe sleeping environments as “low-hanging fruit,” or one of the most preventable tragedies. “There are more safe and less safe ways to do this, but if you want to be as safe as possible, put the baby in the crib or bassinet next to the bed.”

Milwaukee classified 16.4 percent of incidences of sudden infant death syndrome cases as “sleep-related deaths” in 2009. This rate has remained constant since 2001.

Two versions of the ad have raised eyebrows and received national attention. When asked whether they were shocking and provocative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett defended them. “Co-sleeping deaths are the most preventable form of infant deaths in this community,” he said, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

So what are some other ways to avoid unsafe sleep environments for children? Dr. Kultar Shergill, attending pediatrician at Alle-Kiski Medical Center near Pittsburgh, Pa., said that there are several other precautions that young parents can and should take.

“All nurses and doctors should tell parent to place their children on their backs,” he said. According to Shergill, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Academy of Pediatrics have been advising that since the mid-1980s, and incidences of sudden infant death syndrome have dropped dramatically during that time.

Shergill also recommends that infants sleep on a firm bed – water beds and couches present dangers. Parents should also avoid placing stuffed animals and pillows in bed with a sleeping baby. High temperatures may also be dangerous to sleeping infants, and infants with low birth weights may be at greater risk.

Shergill agrees that "co-sleeping" is a dangerous practice. “It’s not a good idea to sleep in a bed with children,” he said, citing crushing injuries as a huge danger. Parents who smoke pose an even greater threat to infants. Shergill said that they should never smoke anywhere near the infant’s sleep environment.

Shergill called unsafe sleep environments the “biggest risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome.”
Cribs represent the safest option for infants.

“It’s good to have a crib. It should be separate from the bed,” he said. “Sharing a bed is not good.”