Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

Bizarre Anti-Cosleeping Ads in Milwaukee a Red Herring?

[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline.]


In Milwaukee, the local government has declared war on cosleeping. Billboards and signs with scary images of babies next to huge knives, surrounded by mounds of pillows and comforters, no adult in sight, proclaim that cosleeping is dangerous. Of course, the signs belie the message since there are no adults actually sleeping with the babies in the pictures, just knives and suffocation hazards and babies sleeping on their stomachs, all fear-triggering images for parents.

This campaign against cosleeping was launched after the release of the 2010 Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIRM) Report detailing the statistics behind Milwaukee’s shocking infant death rate. According to Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Health,  Bevan K. Baker, “The infant mortality rate in Milwaukee is worse than in almost any other developed country.” (pg 4) The idea that an American city could have such a tragic distinction is certainly staggering. Looking at the statistics reveals some sobering facts:

Infant Death and Stillbirth in Milwaukee

2005–2008 Stillbirths and Infant Deaths

  • Of the 807 infant and prenatal deaths from 2005 to 2008, 308 were stillbirths and 499 were infant deaths from all other causes combined.
  • 38%, more than a third, of all of the deaths were attributed to one cause, stillbirth. Poor medical care was cited as the overriding contributor.
  • Of the 499 infant deaths, 53.7% were due to prematurity. Poor medical care was cited as the overriding contributor.
  • More than 77% of the total deaths were due to stillbirth or prematurity with poor medical care cited as the overriding contributor.
  • More than 85% of the total deaths were in the African-American community with poor medical care cited as the overriding contributor.
  • Of the remaining deaths, 19% were due to congenital abnormalities, 18% to SIDS or accidental suffocation (refers to the sudden unexpected death of an infant due to overlay[adult accidentally smothering an infant], positional asphyxiation, or mechanical asphyxiation, [pg 2]~no breakdown of the numbers of SIDS, positional asphyxiation, or mechanical suffocation vs. overlay were provided in the report), 4.4% were due to infection, 2.4% to murder, and 2.4% to other. 
  • Note: The report’s ‘Findings,’ or summary, provided at the beginning of the document transposes the 18% of infant deaths from SIDS and accidental suffocation with the 19% of infant deaths from congenital abnormalities. (see pg 6)
  • Of the 499 infant deaths, 329 were in the African-American community, and of that 193 were due to prematurity, 65 to congenital abnormality, 39 to SIDS and accidental suffocation, 16 to infection, 8 to murder, and 8 to other. 
  • Note: The report’s glossary defined accidental suffocation as “… overlay, positional asphyxiation, or mechanical asphyxiation” but throughout the rest of the document used the phrasing “SIDS, overlay, or accidental suffocation.”
  • In summary, in excess of 85% of the total deaths were in the African-American community. More than 77% of the total deaths were due to stillbirth or prematurity. Poor medical care was cited as the overriding factor in these deaths. Of the 807 total deaths, 88 were due to either SIDS or positional asphyxiation or mechanical asphyxiation or overlay with no distinction in the causes provided. 
  • Note: Risk factors for stillbirth, prematurity, SIDS, etc. were listed and provided in multiple generic tables, but no tables or statistics about actual risk factors found in the Milwaukee deaths were provided. 

So, with no actual numbers of how many of the 88 out of 807 deaths were due to ‘overlay,’ or adults laying on top of and smothering an infant, and with the overwhelming majority of deaths being related to poor medical care in their own report, the local Milwaukee government launched a multi-faceted campaign to…blame the grieving parents.

Not only are they spending taxpayer money to pay for advertising, consulting, billboards, etc in their attack on cosleeping, effectively shifting the limelight away from the real issue, but they also blamed smoking and maternal obesity for the extreme numbers of deaths due to stillbirth and prematurity. Their report, in contrast, showed maternal infection or medical condition to be the primary culprit (read-poor medical care).

Why the red herring? The report, while clearly skewed (see notes), still offered a look at the real issue plaguing Milwaukee: POOR MEDICAL CARE. The report recommended increased access to medical care and improvements in the quality of that care, and yet the focus of the economic and personnel resources of the city in response to the report have been blame-shifting, fear-mongering, and slight-of-hand. Without access to the city’s internal records, we may never know what really brought about Milwaukee’s dangerously substandard medical care implicated in the Fetal Infant Mortality Review, or discern the cause of the extreme bias toward African-American babies dying in Milwaukee, or discover the root of the subsequent bizarre publicity campaign by the local Milwaukee government against cosleeping, but we can be sure of one thing, “Something’s rotten in Denmark…er, Milwaukee.”

Here are some cosleeping research and safety resources:

Love in the Time of Cosleeping

Dr Sears Addresses Recent Cosleeping Concerns

Cosleeping: Fear Mongering, Flawed Research and How to Cosleep Safely

Co-Sleeping – Sorting the Truths from the Myths and the Downright Lies.

And a petition to remove the offensive ads:

Milwaukee, remove the fear mongering co-sleeping ads!


Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

4 Responses

  1. Milwaukee would do better to start a campaign against alcohol abuse than cosleeping.

    Honestly, my view is that if either parent is in the habit of drinking heavily in the evenings, even only occasionally, cosleeping should not be considered because you can’t guarantee that this baby is safe in the bed. Drunken irresponsibility is a much bigger danger than the simple fact of having a baby in bed with you, which is an acceptable and very minor risk (less than taking the baby out in a car, I’m sure!) when parents behave responsibly.

    December 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    • L.R. Knost


      December 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  2. Pingback: » Co-sleeping Safely~Is it possible? Decide for yourself! Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources

  3. Pingback: » Love in the Time of Cosleeping Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources

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