A bill would make it a crime  for parents to harm an infant by sharing a bed or couch with them – also known as “co-sleeping” – while intoxicated.
Opponents of the measure say it could be hard to prove a felony occurred, while supporters say more needs to be done to protect infants.
Co-sleeping is often done for convenient breastfeeding, to help an infant sleep, or because no crib is available. Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake) is not against co-sleeping, but she wants to make it a felony if an infant is injured or dies as a result of a sleeping with a parent who is legally intoxicated or substantially impaired from drugs or alcohol.
“A lot of times these cases are tragic accidents,” says Kerkman. “But a lot of times, the facts show there was intent to harm a child.”
Co-sleeping has resulted in deaths statewide. Most have occurred in Milwaukee County, which has seen 15 so far this year. It’s estimated that 20 percent of those deaths involve alcohol or drugs.
There are other risk factors that can cause an infant's death during sleep, like smoke, soft sleep surfaces or loose bedding. Dr. Jason Jarzembowski of the Medical College of Wisconsin says the bill sends a mixed message.
“Criminalizing co-sleeping under certain conditions, such as when drinking or using drugs, sends a loud message that co-sleeping is safe when you are sober,” says Jarzembowski. “It is not.”
Jarzembowski says they don't know how many parents sleep with their infants; he estimates it could be anywhere from 20 to 80 percent. Janesville detective Eric Goth, who supports the bill, says criminalizing intoxicated co-sleeping might help provide that number.
“It's not against the law currently and we don't have good statistics on how many co-sleeping deaths are drug or alcohol related,” says Goth. “But I've seen it enough to know that it's a hazard.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend co-sleeping.