A prosecutor in Indiana thinks the worldwide-but-controversial practice of sleeping with your baby in the bed is a prosecutable offense, and he’s vowed to bring co-sleeping moms and dads up on charges if their babies die on his watch.
Delaware County prosecutor Jeffery Arnold said he’s seen nine infant deaths in the past year, many the result of co-sleeping. “I’m not going to overlook that anymore as stupidity,” he said, joining a growing number of prosecutors across the country who are now prosecuting parents for sharing their beds with their kids. Two couples—one in Utah and a second in Texas—are on trial right now in their children’s deaths, believed to be a result of co-sleeping.
Of course, medical and consumer groups like the Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have made a mission out of warning parents of all the bad things that can happen when we co-sleep with our babies: they can suffocate, get trapped by the bed frame, headboard, footboard or wall, fall from the bed, get smothered by our bodies, die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—the list goes on. And the Milwaukee Health Department weighed in earlier this year with a controversial print ad campaign that showed babies cuddling up to giant butcher knives. The tagline? “YOUR BABY SLEEPING WITH YOU CAN BE JUST AS DANGEROUS.”
It behooves us as parents to take all of these things into account as we decide how to best put our children to sleep at night, but really? We’re sending parents to prison over a centuries-old practice mothers around the world continue, even today? Over what, if alcohol or drugs aren’t involved, could be simply a horribly tragic accident? Are there actual laws on the books barring mothers from sleeping with their kids? Because if there are, I broke them for at least the first two years of each of my daughters lives. Almost every night for the first six months (save for the unfortunate time we tried to let Mari cry it out) of their lives, I stretched out a clean cloth diaper on the bed between Nick and I, laid my babies on their backs on our mattress and cuddled them to sleep, waking up to nurse them (read: roll over and pop a boob in their mouths) when they were hungry, rub their backs when they cried and nuzzle their chubby cheeks and smell their sweet baby breath when I wanted to thank God for the miracle of their little lives. Later, they found their way to the crib, but if my daughters wanted to sleep in our beds, to this day, they are allowed in—with open arms.
Thank God nothing ever happened to my ladies while they slept with Nick and I. And there are ways a parent can safely share sleep space with their children while greatly reducing the risks that they’ll get hurt. But I just can’t see how the law can slap a “reckless endangerment” charge on mothers for how they choose to put their babies to sleep. I’d hate for co-sleeping parents in Indiana to find out the hard way whether this prosecutor means business.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.