The internet has been abuzz lately about a recent FOX News report that has linked co-sleeping deaths to formula feeding. The report, which I found to be quite balanced (though somewhat sensational), is based on a number of co-sleeping or bed sharing deaths in the city of Milwaukee and the city’s message that there is no such thing as safe bed sharing.
The City of Milwaukee Health Department is currently running this ad – with a headstone in place of a headboard – to discourage ALL parents from co-sleeping with their babies. “For too many babies last year, this was their final resting place.” I guess they figure fear mongering is better than educating. As a mother who made an educated decision to co-sleep with my children, I find it quite offensive.
Then there is a TV ad that the state of Indiana is running (more fear mongering) to convince parents that they only place a baby should sleep is in a crib which is plain disturbing.
The report revealed (although not until the very end of the video) a surprising finding, that in all of the Milwaukee co-sleeping cases they reviewed for 2009 and so far in 2010, 100% of the babies were formula fed. McKenna predicted the outcome and even goes so far as to state, “I really actually think that breastfeeding is a prerequisite for bed sharing.”
The blogger at The Babydust Diaries qualifies the formula finding:
This isn’t to say that the formula caused the death or that formula fed parents don’t care but there are some specific circumstances that can make these kids more prone to bed-related deaths2. The video mentions positioning and waking of the mother but also the frequent wakings of the child. Formula takes longer to digest and thus those children sleep for longer stretches than breastfed babies and often sleep deeper – causing an increase in SIDS deaths as well.
The Fearless Formula Feeder wrote about her thoughts on the Fox report in Cosleeping and formula feeding: a tale of two scapegoats. She particularly took offense at “the immediate and inaccurate battle cry against formula and formula feeding” on Twitter. She suggests rephrasing Tweets from things like:
“FORMULA FEEDING, not alcohol or soft bedding, at root of bed-sharing baby deaths!”
“Formula feeding was the common factor in these poor babies’ deaths!”
“Breastfeeding could protect against cosleeping deaths”
“Formula feeding parents should be alerted to cosleeping risks”
The Fearless Formula Feeder adds:
If you watch the video, it is clear that bottle feeding was indeed associated with 100% of the cosleeping death cases in Milwaukee. …
However, the sensationalist news report also mentioned, in passing, some other important factors. Like that the majority of the babies lived in low-income, black families. And that 75% lived in households where smoking was a factor, and many had parents who engaged in drug use or drank frequently. Or that a number of the cases, though originally classified as cosleeping deaths, were later ruled as other causes of death, like SIDS.
Although the City of Milwaukee Health Department would like it to be a black and white issue, there are clearly shades of gray. The medical examiner reports in Milwaukee County showed that the vast majority of co-sleeping deaths were African-American babies living in what the Black Health Coalition calls “chaotic homes.” McKenna agrees that there is an “overwhelming predominance of deaths in the lower socioeconomic environment.” Yet the city refuses to acknowledge and address the complexities.
The Baby Dust Diaries blogger commented on this as well:
The other issue brought up in the piece is about socioeconomic status. Statistically, more bed-related deaths occur in poorer and often unstable homes. Once again this is a correlation not a causal relationship. I was flabbergasted at the health department woman’s assertion that she shouldn’t even have to think about different types of people. Seriously? How do you serve a population and remain blind to the demographics? I really liked the woman from the community program [Black Health Coalition]. She, correctly, points out that ignoring the reality of the situations at home only drives these already under-served people further away from the services that can help them.
She also points out that there’s a difference between a mom who brings her baby into bed as a last resort and falls asleep and a mom who has done her research and knows how to safely bed share – like she did, as did I. “It isn’t a last resort of the exhausted, but a well-thought out, planned, and safe situation.”
So is it fair, as the city of Milwaukee and the state of Indiana suggest, to say nobody should ever co-sleep? Or how about what James McKenna said, that only breastfeeding moms should be allowed to co-sleep? Or should we instead try to raise awareness about the risks AND benefits of co-sleeping for both breastfed and formula-fed babies and the increased risk for formula-fed babies so that parents can make decisions based on research rather than on fear?
For more information about safe bed sharing, visit:
- James McKenna’s articles on co-sleeping
- Sleeping Safely with Your Baby by Dr. Sears
- Co-sleeping Safety by PhDinParenting
Cross-posted on BlogHer
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