New insights into the anxiety over infant sleep safety
New parents are inundated with warnings about the fatal risks of “co-sleeping,” or sharing a bed with a newborn, from medical brochures and website forums, to billboard advertisements and the evening news. In Losing Sleep, Laura Harrison uncovers the origins of the infant sleep safety debate, providing a window into the unprecedented anxieties of modern parenthood.
Exploring widespread rhetoric from doctors, public health experts, and the media, Harrison explains why our panic has reached an all-time high. She traces the way safe sleep standards in the United States have changed, and shows how parents, rather than broader systems of inequality that impact issues of housing and precarity, are increasingly being held responsible for infant health outcomes. Harrison shows that infant mortality rates differ widely by race and are linked to socioeconomic status. Yet, while racial disparities in infant mortality point to systemic and structural causes, the discourse around infant sleep safety often suggests that individual parents can protect their children from these tragic outcomes, if only they would make the right choices about safe sleep.
Harrison argues that our understanding of sleep-related infant death, and the crisis of infant mortality in general, has burdened parents, especially parents of color, in increasingly punitive ways. As the government takes a more visible role in criminalizing parents, including those whose children die in their sleep, this book provides much-needed insight into a new era of parenthood.