Co-Sleeping Controlversies: Are Scare Tactics the Way to Make Change?

A recent ad campaign in Milwaukee likens co-sleeping to putting a baby to bed with a big sharp butcher knife. Well, of course that is dangerous. So is putting a baby to bed in the beds pictured in the ads – big cushy pillows and blankets. But that is not what co-sleeping is about.

Milwaukee is trying to prevent preventable deaths. The number of children who die while in co-sleeping situations in their city is horribly high. Nix co-sleeping, nix the problem. But the problem is not co-sleeping in and of itself. The problem is not practicing safe behaviors while co-sleeping such as minimizing the blankets and pillows, ensuring that everybody is sober, keeping a house free of cigarettes, and having the baby sleep face up. THESE are things that help make bed a safer place.

I am bothered by the fact that the ad campaign seeks to scare a population of parents into a different behavior. I don’t think it will be effective. They are trying to scare people into stopping, but how many of us change our eating habits because of the fear of future diseases – or quit smoking – or start exercising – or….the list goes one. Scare tactics do not produce long lasting change.

Education does. It allows us to adopt changes that work with our chosen lifestyle. And in the case of a crying, fussy child who can’t fall asleep except snuggled up to mom or dad – I don’t see people all of a sudden putting their hollering, crying children in pack-n-plays because of these fear based billboards.

People want their children to fall asleep and they do what they can to help their child do so – and that is quite often, lying beside them. What angers me is that nothing about the ad campaign is honest. It portrays co-sleeping as dangerous in and of itself. It is not. It equates co-sleeping with the deaths of babies, but we know that the risk of death goes up when alcohol, certain types of bedding and houses with smokers are involved.Co-sleeping has been used by people from all walks of life and, done safely, is a wonderful way for parents and children to create a special intimacy.

According to articles about the ad campaign, it targets a specific socio-economic group in which it seems that the assumption is is that they are not educable so scare tactics based on misinformation are the best route. Are the parents in the targeted group not as capable of learning safe processes? Do they not care for their children as much as other socio-economic groups? Do they not have the right to enjoy that special connection that comes from sleeping beside one’s baby? Do they not have the ability to make informed decisions about what is best for their family (cribs, co-sleepers next to the bed, co-sleeping in the bed)?

Instead of focusing on an education campaign that teaches people how to make their sleeping routines safer, they seem to say, “You are not capable of educating. Therefore, we will try to scare you into a new behavior”. I think we are better off teaching people the ins and outs of various sleeping arrangements AND teaching people how to do those well – employing safe practices, using nurturing behaviors and working to develop healthy relationships between the parent and child. People makes changes when those changes make sense to them and work with their beliefs – let’s educate people instead of scaring them.  And let’s certainly never leave big knives in bed.

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