Health

After 55 Infant Deaths In 4 Years, Wisconsin Lawmaker Authors Bill To Make Drunken Co-Sleeping A Crime

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After an 11th baby this year died in the Milwaukee area, accidentally killed by a sleeping parent, a Wisconsin state lawmaker wants to make it a crime to sleep dangerously.

"Something has to change because we can't just let more innocent children die," State Rep. Samantha Kerkman told a Milwaukee news station. "There are accidents that happen. I don't want to impede somebody's bedroom, but there are circumstances I think this case really highlights."

Kerkman was referring to the most recent case in which a mother fell asleep drunk with her infant child in the same bed. She rolled over on the baby and smothered it without waking up.

The legislator actually introduced her bill, which makes it a crime to fall asleep drunk if any harm in inflicted on a child in the process, four days before the latest incident. But the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that since 2009, 55 Milwaukee-area children perished in co-sleeping mishaps.

Co-sleeping is the term used to describe parents and young children sleeping in the same bed, rather than the parent placing the child in its own crib, bed or separate room. While some studies have shown that co-sleeping carries mental and physical health benefits for both parent and child, safety advocates say the practice is just too risky.

In fact, they say, bills such as the one proposed by Kerkman are not enough to stop co-sleeping deaths. They believe that any co-sleeping should be a crime.

According to one medical examiner, only about 20 percent of co-sleeping deaths involve a parent (or other caregiver) who was intoxicated.

"By picking out one risk factor like intoxication is providing a false sense of security among parents," Karen Ordinans of the Children's Health Alliance of Wisconsin said.

Kerkman’s bill would use the same blood-alcohol level as Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws — 0.8 percent — to determine whether a parent was legally intoxicated before falling asleep. Drug use before co-sleeping would also be a crime under the bill.

In a Milwaukee co-sleeping death that occurred Sept, 20, the mother admitted smoking marijuana and drinking both beer and vodka before falling asleep with her baby. When she woke up, the baby was dead.

SOURCES: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 620 WTMJ, Slate, Wikipedia