A Closer Look at Co-Sleeping

Despite major media coverage and public health campaigns, co-sleeping deaths have remained consistent in Milwaukee for the past five years, a Media Milwaukee investigation has found.

Each year, 15 to 20 co-sleeping deaths occur in Milwaukee County,” according to a report obtained from the City of Milwaukee’s Health Department.

From 2003 to 2006, co-sleeping numbers showed an average between 15 and 22 deaths per year. From 2007 to 2008, the number in-creased to 40 deaths; 19 to 20 sleep-related deaths were reported from 2009 to 2012. Fifteen co-sleeping incidents have occurred so far this year.

“Medical examiners have a new way of finding out how an infant died, back in the day they use to call it SIDS,” said Sarah DeRoss, from the City of Milwaukee Health Department.

In order to determine the cause of death related to co-sleeping, the medical examiner must investigate the scene where the death oc-curred, review the child’s clinical history and perform an autopsy, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We don’t take full advantage of our resources,” said Anthony Powell of Wauwatosa. “There are so many things out here to help with this issue, but most people just do what’s comfortable to them and unfortunately that’s resulted in the death of a baby.”

Lower numbers of co-sleeping deaths could be related to Milwaukee’s Cribs for Kids Program-for those who cannot afford a bed for their baby- by offering low income families a Pack N’ Play. The Pack N’ Play is an ideal solution to co-sleeping because the device can be a bed at night and a play pin during the daytime when parents need to multitask between mommy duties and chores. Parents can also fold it up and carry it to other locations, should they plan to spend the night at a new location.

“Back in my day, we didn’t have a Pack N’ Play. We let our kids sleep in between us at night. My grandparents did it, my parents did and so I did it too. It’s like history repeating itself in terms of the way we care for our children,” said Larry Donahue, 60, of Milwaukee.

While a debate on co-sleeping habits continue to dominate the press, many parents believe there are benefits to co-sleeping with their little ones, such as late night nursing and giving the child a feeling of security.

“I feel connected to my baby when she sleeps with me. It might sound weird, but I feel like by cuddling with her at night I’m showing her how much I love her, it’s our bonding time,” said Sheena Rivera, 23, of Milwaukee.

Some parents disagree citing suffocation and less intimacy in their relationship with the other parent as reasons why they choose not to co-sleep. Others believe in doing things by the book when it comes to sleep environments for children.

“I disagree,” said Edward Hopkins, 32 of Milwaukee. “I believe in protecting my children and part of that is providing a safe sleep environment. “

Milwaukee’s legislators agrees with Hopkins to a degree, as they are seeking to make intoxicated co-sleeping a criminal charge. The proposal suggests that parents who co-sleep with their children while under the influence should be incarcerated, while those who co-sleep with their children sober will not suffer any consequences if it should result in death.

Despite the proposal for new laws regarding co-sleeping habits, many parents will continue to sleep with their baby, arguing that it promotes a healthy relationship between parent and child. It’s important to understand the deadly effects of co-sleeping before making a decision regarding safe sleep environments for your children, officials say.

If you or someone you know may be interested in the Cribs for Kids program, you may call (414) 286-8620.