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CoSleeping, Babies & Butcher Knives?

Have you seen the {controversial} co-sleeping ad by SERVE marketing and the Milwaukee Health Department? It has people talking. The ad features a baby sleeping in an adult bed, nestled amongst pillows, fluffy bedding, oh, and a butcher knife. Sounds like the context of the Sesame Street game, “Which one of these things does not belong,” but the knife placement is intentional. The text reads, “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous.”

Image from Serve Marketing



It’s raw.. it’s bold.. and it has people talking, which is actually what I like about it. SERVE is known for bold tactics, their teen pregnancy ads are similar in nature, using shock-factor to get your attention and elicit a response.

A few definitions before we discuss. There are some conflicting definitions of the phrase ‘co-sleeping,’ so for purposes of this piece:

Co-Sleeping: Practice of baby sleeping in same room as parent, but not physically in the same bed. This is the practice currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Co-Bedding: Practice where baby sleeps physically in the same bed as his/her parents.

Critics of the ad are outraged and have picked apart each aspect in an attempt to discredit its creators – the baby is sleeping on his stomach, the baby’s head is on a pillow, etc. They argue that co-bedding is practiced all over the world and has emotional (bonding) and other benefits to mom and baby (decreased SIDS rates, increased success with exclusive breastfeeding, etc.). Additionally, they argue that co-bedding can be made safer using certain precautions and the ad chooses not to educate, but rather uses only scare tactics.

Proponents of the ad campaign respond that while co-bedding may occur all over the world, Milwaukee county has higher rates of infant mortality than 30 developed and undeveloped countries.  In Milwaukee, ten infants have died due to unsafe sleep environments since the beginning of 2011. In situations like this, investigators sometimes find that families could not afford cribs, so the ad by SERVE lists a phone number families can call to obtain a portable crib, free of charge. They argue that these deaths are preventable and by taking action, they will decrease the overall infant mortality rate for the county.

As I mentioned, I like that the ads have people talking about this. Or even just thinking about it. There are many closet co-bedding families that choose these sleep arrangements with their infants but feel they will be judged for ‘coming out of the closet,’ so to speak.  I’m not inviting judgement here, but I suppose by authoring a blog post on a public blog that is a risk you take. Nonetheless,  I’m not going to take a side and say that co-bedding is absolutely safe or absolutely not safe. However, I do feel that there are safe ways to do things, and unsafe ways – just like choosing to wear a seatbelt or not wear a seatbelt when driving a car (and interestingly, this author compared the statistics and found co-sleeping equally as risky as riding in a car in Canada). I am by no means making light of the serious nature of preventable infant mortality, but I also do not think that providing a portable crib educates parents or caregivers on a safe sleep environment. Smoking, temperature of the room, sleeping on backs, avoiding pillows or fluffy comforters – none of this leads to a safe sleep environment, whether or not the baby is in an adult bed or a pack-n-play.

I am going to come out of the proverbial closet as a co-bedder. Did we plan on this? Not at all. Do we consider the risk? Of course. Do we take appropriate precautions? You bet. I’m not going to tell you to do this. And actually, if the thought makes you uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t do it at all. No need to detail the story of ‘how we became co-bedders’ here, and it’s really not all that interesting anyway, but suffice to say it is what works around here and we are comfortable with it. Well, we are comfortable until the child starts kicking us in the middle of the night and taking up the entire bed – then we move on :)  So I am not going to tell you to do this. But if you choose to, please be safe!

Infant suffocation deaths in Milwaukee have occurred when the adult responsible for the child was sleeping on a couch, was not the child’s mother or father, or was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs (all are not recommended safe co-sleeping practices); however the ten also include well-meaning parents who fell asleep with their infants in their beds – some on purpose, some by accident. I’m thinking {typing} outloud {not really} here, but I’ve always wondered about this–and it’s a question that won’t likely ever be answered because studies like these are either unethical (if prospective) or recall/honesty biased (if retrospective)–but I wonder what the rates are of such accidents in parents who intentionally co-bed versus those who unintentionally fall asleep with the infant. Like, does a co-bedding parent become ‘well-practiced’ at something co-bedding? Sleep habits like this are not unheard of – actually, babies put to bed on their stomach are more likely to die of SIDS if they normally sleep on their backs than those babies who normally sleep on their stomachs – a phenomenon of unaccustomed sleep arrangements. If so, I have eight cumulative months of ‘experience.’ Perhaps the ‘safe sleep environment’ that you create just becomes the new way that you sleep – For example, I, a former stomach sleeper, now sleep on my side, facing the baby, with one arm out in the direction of the baby. I sleep like this whether or not she is next to me. Just something I ponder..

So, what do you think? Do you think this ad campaign is effective? If SERVE would have come up with an ad about ‘safe co-bedding,’ would people be talking about it? Would people notice?

3 Responses to CoSleeping, Babies & Butcher Knives?

  • Val Splitt says:

    WOW! The ad is quite compelling. It sure made me think twice about co-sleeping. I am pregnant with my first and I showed this blog to my husband. We do not know what we plan on doing yet, but…oh my!. I was trying to find some of SERVE’s teenage pregnancy ads, but haven’t been very successful. I think this ad is great. It really does get people talking, which is wonderful and is what makes this an effective ad to begin with.

  • Maria says:

    I think people were talking about this issue (especially in Milwaukee) before the SERVE ads, but they certainly helped to fan the flames. I read the article, and have seen several this year in the JS, it seems that most of the families this happens to are not practicing safe sleep habits.

    We co-bed. I never in a million years thought that we would! My husband and I research everything extensively, parenting, cars, vacations, you name it. But we are in a situation where it makes the most sense for our family and we are doing what we need to do to make it through. Hoping that we are past this stage in a few months and everyone is in their own bed.

    Honestly I wish that people would talk more about ways to do this safely instead of such drama and black-and-whiteness of it all. Most of the rest of the world co-beds successfully, so what are they doing right? I wish the conversation was more productive and less scare tactics.

  • [...] have to give huge props to Nicole from Baby Food Scoops for this blog entry on co-sleeping. And this article from Dr. Sears. And this one on safety. We had kind of already made this decision [...]

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