Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Surprise! A truly fair and balanced story on bedsharing

This just in from, of all sources, a Fox affiliate. I was bracing myself to be infuriated, as per usual with media coverage on this. It started off with me white-knuckling the edge of my laptop as they described another death of a baby due to a drunk mother sleeping on the couch with her baby as "cosleeping, or bedsharing, as is more accurate". Then, the closed-minded, stunningly ignorant woman representing the public health department had me gnashing my teeth, but outside of that, really impressive coverage. If you start it, you MUST watch to the end, both for their conclusions and for the result of a quiz they present, on what the common factor was between all these cases.

So, watch it, get the big reveal, and then we'll chat some more.

Amazing, eh? All of the choices in the quiz are very commonly involved in so-called bedsharing deaths, but one of them is connected to ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the cases, and that's formula. Correlation does not equal causation, of course; they are not saying that the wasted mom who passed out on and suffocated her baby is off the hook because formula, rather than suffocation, was the actual cause of death. That's obviously not true. I do think it's important to emphasize, as the story does, those other risk factors are still extremely serious ones, including parents who are drunk or on drugs (I can't even believe that ANYONE can seriously think for a second that that's a fair example of true co-sleeping, and blame such a death on it), on couches or other unsafe places like couches or waterbeds, with older children in the bed, or who are cigarette smokers.

I'm not so much surprised that the common factor was formula, but I AM surprised, very pleasantly so, that the news team actually reported this. They actually did their jobs and investigated this. So many news teams wouldn't have done anything more than interview the Milwaukee Health Department for their simplistic sound bytes, get a quote from the AAP, and show lots of emotionally manipulative imagery, like empty cribs and tiny coffins. Of course, they had to do some of this here, too, including the Indiana PSA that show a a scenario of a baby discovered dead after napping with mommy on the couch. (Watch that part again, if you can. Is it just me, or does the very last frame we see of that ad show a bottle on the coffee table? Coincidences, coincidences.) But they didn't stop there - they sought out dissenting opinions, including my main man Dr. James McKenna, a proud and informed family who bedshares with their babies safely, and a representative for the Black Health Coalition. And they researched. It wasn't just a tabloid tearjerker.

Now that you know what the common factor is, think about that (ridiculous on so many levels) ad that shows an adult bed with a headstone over it, with the text "For too many babies last year, this was their final resting place."

How do you think it would go over if, as my own LC pointed out, they showed a bottle with the words "For too many babies last year, this was their final meal"?

I am SO not actually suggesting they do such a thing, but - BUT - what if Milwaukee instead decided to take on the issue of breastfeeding promotion (or, more accurately, the risks of formula feeding), with a bit more compassion but otherwise, the same zeal and resources with which they're attacking bedsharing?


  1. I took offense to the phrase "bottle fed". My daughter was fed expressed breastmilk via bottle because she lacked the muscle tone to suck. But I digress......

    I think there is a difference between educated co-sleeping and falling asleep with the baby in bed with you and not know that blankets and pillows are a hazard to a baby. When my daughter and I would sleep together and we napped on the couch every day her head was on my arm in the breastfeeding position. Of course it is always easier to say that something is dangerous rather than educate people that there is a correct way to do something. A fan in the room has been shown to decrease SIDS and babies should not sleep with a hat on but it's easier to tell parents to put the baby on their back then go through the list of ways to keep your newborn safe. They want to outlaw co-sleeping?? Why don't they just require a child license to prove that you are fit and get it over with?~Tracey

  2. Ack - I meant to be clear about it being formula that was the problem! The mention of bottles as an image was meant to convey that. I'm sorry if it felt like it was unfairly including your situation. I had to EP for a long time myself, so I really understand.

    "I think there is a difference between educated co-sleeping and falling asleep with the baby in bed with you and not know that blankets and pillows are a hazard to a baby."

    You're absolutely right, there is a HUGE difference between the former and the latter. I'm glad the reporter, in this case, covered much of this, even if the department of health can't be bothered. (Nor do they think it's their job to look at socioeconomic factors of different demographics - what the HELL is that about?? But that's yet another rant.)

    I was just remarking to a friend that we don't look at drunk driving, or driving in cars that are structurally unsafe, or young children driving cars and so on, and see accidents that were caused by those things, and say - LOOK, this means cars are always dangerous! We're not going to look at factors that make it safer, or try to educate the public, it's just not safe. Never drive anywhere.

  3. I formula fed and breastfed both of my babies after a painful and long struggle in determining I have chronic low supply. I also bedshared with them both until they were 10.5 months. I think formula fed babies die of SIDS more altogether. I don't think if all other safety factors are considered, that formula feeding and bedsharing cannot go hand in hand.

  4. "I think formula fed babies die of SIDS more altogether. I don't think if all other safety factors are considered, that formula feeding and bedsharing cannot go hand in hand."

    Lynda, I think you're absolutely right on both counts. Those safety factors are CRUCIAL. This is why it was so refreshing to see a news piece take the issue on as a multifaceted matter, looking at ALL the connections and circumstances.

    And I'm sorry you had such a long and painful struggle! I can definitely relate.

  5. Posted by Tracey again~ can't figure out how to post without it being anonymous.

    Anne, I didn't take offense to your comment but to the newcasters, I know that you too had a difficult road in breastfeeding.

    I have friends who have had to take practically every food out of their diet while breastfeeding and are still doing it past their childs first birthday. I have other friends who simply went straight to formula because it was easier. Most of us born in the 70's were formula fed. My family tried to convince my mom she was a pedophile for attempting to breastfeed me. She only switched to formula when she realized she had suppressed her milk supply by not having a big enough bra. I was formula fed and slept on my dad's chest and during the day napped with my mom and I survived. Some friends co-sleep and their kids aren't dying in droves. I can't believe that they want to outlaw co-sleeping but don't want to look at socio-economic factors! On the checklist for every well-child visit one question that bothered me was if you put your newborn-6 month old baby in bed partially awake and let them put themselves to sleep. I was actually told by our horrible pediatrician to wake her up if she feel asleep in my arms before putting her to bed. As if a newborn could comfort themselves!! I think the medical community has a hard time separating what sounds good on paper and what actually works in real life. Co-sleeping if done properly means that everyone is SLEEPING!!! Teach safe co-sleeping, not outlaw it. How many babies die of shaken baby syndrome because mom and dad are exhausted from the rigors of taking care of a newborn? I have gone on long enough....Love your blog Anne!!!

  6. Another thing I noticed in the piece, is that both of the mother's whose babies died don't normally bedshare. The poor little 4 month old "always slept in his bassinette". If parents aren't accustomed to having the baby in the bed I think it increases the risk. It seems incredibly unfair to put accidents by non-bedsharers in the same category with full time planned bedsharing.

  7. I finally got around to watching this, so here's my very belated comment...

    I wrote a research paper as an undergraduate on the SIDS/bedsharing debates and I've been interested in this ever since. I was overall very impressed by the piece, just like you! To me, the piece of the puzzle they didn't put together was SIDS deaths + formula feeding. We know, as well as we can know anything about SIDS, that formula feeding increases the risks for SIDS. We also know that SIDS deaths can be misidentified as suffocation deaths linked to bedsharing (and vice versa). If some of these bedsharing deaths are "really" SIDS (whatever SIDS is) then it makes sense that they would skew more towards bottle feeding.

    And the other correlation vs. causation piece we have to be aware of here is socioeconomic status. I think it's pretty likely that the people most likely to bedshare in an unsafe way are also the people least likely to breastfeed. Does that mean that breastfeeding couldn't be protective for those people, in terms of what James Mckenna was talking about? Sure it could, but it's still an easy confounder for people to point out.

    And the breast milk vs. breastfeeding piece of this is also very intriguing. We don't know why breastfeeding is protective against SIDS, because we don't know what causes SIDS, although there are plenty of theories on both counts. Is it protective factors in the breast milk, or something about breastfeeding behavior, or a combination of both? Right now, it's impossible to know. However, if the part of safe cosleeping that James Mckenna identifies as crucial is the baby's orientation to the breast and the positions that mother and baby assume for direct breastfeeding, then it stands to reason that breast milk via bottle wouldn't make cosleeping any safer than formula via bottle. Do I think that means that bottle feeding moms can't cosleep safely? It seems like they'd be able to. But I don't think James Mckenna thinks so, which is very interesting.

    Thanks for finding and posting this!