Ads Against Co-Sleeping Causing a Stir

16 Nov

I always perk up when I hear news from my home state, so of course I had to chuckle earlier today when watching the video where Herman Cain squirms after being asked by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter what he thought of Obama’s approach to Libya.  I do have a heart, though, and got equally uncomfortable as I had been smug a few minutes earlier when the interview wore on, and Cain looked like he was about to just start wildly flailing his arms.  So though I’m no Herman Cain fan or out and out hater, I like to catch Wisconsin news here and there.  I, therefore, was ready to click Yahoo’s link to coverage on a controversial ad running now in Milwaukee that features a close-up on a peaceful looking baby sleeping on a bed, even if I had not seen the ominous teaser “see what’s next to baby.”  The City is running an ad campaign to discourage parents from letting their babies sleep in bed with them in response to a steep incidents of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which is often linked to what is commonly known as co-sleeping.  The City’s ad campaign has two ads running, one with a black baby, one with a white baby, and next to the babies a large butcher’s knife under a caption that reads “Your baby sleeping next to you can be just as dangerous.”  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported shocking statistics showing the city has a higher infant mortality rate than thirty countries (developed and under-developed).  Even more staggering is the racial divide: according to the Journal Sentinel, in 2009, there were an average 10.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births with 5.4 being the rate for white babies, and 14.1 for black babies.   Although there has been some backlash to the blatant use of shock in the ad campaign, city officials point to such statistics as demonstrating the need to wake parents up to the unfortunate reality.

What remains unclear, however, is why Milwaukee?  Not to make light but, I know Wisconsin’s cold but we didn’t all bundle up in mom and dad’s bed for that reason.  Is it true that there is more co-sleeping going on in that cold city?  I’ve noticed, admittedly anecdotally, that co-sleeping has had a surge in popularity among parents eager to bond with their babies, and also those who just aren’t ready to let the babies cry through the night.  We kept a bassinet next to the bed when Izzy was an infant so that we could switch from bed to bassinet.  I was more comfortable with her in the room with us than in a separate room, alone in her crib, in part because I’d heard that some experts recommend having the baby closer to the parents to prevent SIDS because SIDS is more likely to occur when babies fall into a deep sleep.  Since the parents would be right there in the room, making noise (we both snore), the infant does not fall into that dangerously deep sleep.

Although I understand Milwaukee’s need to draw attention to the problem, I hesitate to condone ads so heavily dependent on shock value.  Here’s the test I use to analyze whether ads go too far: would I be uncomfortable with a four to six-year old seeing this, and would I feel the need to explain it?  I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if young children and their parents could just enjoy leisurely strolls through the city or flipping through magazines together at the doctor’s office without parents having to explain to their children that this is the stuff the world is made of?  And here the ad fails the test.  I would worry about a four-year old seeing this ad and being scared.  I would feel the need to explain it to the child.  I would be uncomfortable doing so — as much because it’s complicated and I feel I would have to talk about the marketer’s use of shock, as I would be annoyed at spending precious time with my four-year old explaining it. Ironic, given that this ad is one that is supposed to help parents of young children.

My advice to Milwaukee: find out what’s behind those statistics and put your money into fixing that problem, and educate parents on the dangers of co-sleeping as well as safe ways to do it since some parents will ignore your ads anyway.


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