Is Milwaukee’s anti-co-sleeping campaign working?

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MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett calls three separate co-sleeping deaths during the 48-hour period encompassing this past Friday and Saturday unacceptable. Co-sleeping has been a big problem in the city of Milwaukee, resulting in preventable infant deaths, and the city recently launched a campaign urging parents to create safe sleep environments for their infants. But some say the message is missing the mark.

One case was reported shortly after 7:30 a.m. Friday in a neighborhood near Teutonia and Green Tree. The victim is a two-month-old boy who was found in an adult bed with his three-year-old brother lying on top of him. The infant’s face was apparently covered by the older boy’s arm. Both children were in bed with their parents.

A second case happened around noon on Friday in a home near 48th and Clarke on Milwaukee’s north side. A four-month-old girl who had been bed-sharing with her mother died. The mother says the infant had been cradled in her arms. In the Medical Examiner’s report, the mother said, “it was her normal practice to sleep with her children and she does this because she believes they are safer.”

Both of these cases have been referred to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office.

Mayor Barrett and the City of Milwaukee Health Department say these co-sleeping deaths are preventable, and the solution is simple: convincing more mothers and fathers not to sleep with their infants. “My heart breaks for these families who are suffering in a way that I, as father, cannot imagine. Most of these unsafe sleeping deaths we have in the city of Milwaukee can be prevented. I am frustrated by this news, and I am disappointed by this news, but mostly, I am very sad,” Mayor Barrett said.

The city of Milwaukee recently launched an aggressive anti-co-sleeping campaign back in November, and Barrett admits the message isn’t making its way to those who need to hear it. “The message is clearly not getting through, and we need to do a better job of making sure this message is heard,” Mayor Barrett said.

Patricia McManus with the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin says she knows why the city’s message is missing the mark. “The Health Department has been on this rampage for the last three years with the different iteration of the ads, with (the message) not changing. If the message is ‘just don’t do it,’ I’ve said this to people in the Health Department – it’s like ‘don’t have sex.’ We know how well that works,” McManus said.

CLICK HERE for an article where McManus discusses the city’s anti-co-sleeping campaign in detail.

McManus says educating families inside the homes where co-sleeping incidents happen is better than just telling them “don’t do it.”

“There needs to be more than one approach, and if you don’t explain the risk to them, and just say ‘don’t do it,’ that doesn’t make sense to people,” McManus said.

CLICK HERE for details on the Cribs for Kids Program, where low-income families can learn about safe sleep, and receive a free, portable crib.

CLICK HERE for questions/answers regarding the Milwaukee Health Department’s “Safe Sleep Summit.”

CLICK HERE to visit the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s “infant mortality” info. page.

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