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November 18th, 2011
03:20 PM ET

Baby in parents' bed: As dangerous as a butcher knife?

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

The ads at bus stops in Milwaukee make you catch your breath: A baby sleeps next to a butcher knife that’s almost as long as the baby and very, very sharp.

Underneath the ads, the text reads “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous.”

The point of the ads is that babies should sleep in cribs, not in adult beds. Between 1990 and 1997, 515 infants died while sleeping in adult beds, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. About a quarter of the deaths occurred when parents rolled over on their babies. The rest were due to other causes such as babies suffocating in a soft blanket or getting stuck between the mattress and the bed frame.

But some wonder if  the ads have gone too far.

“I strongly disagree with this very insensitive and unscientific ad,” Dr. William Sears, author of the “The Baby Book,” told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux on Friday. “Every night the world over, millions and millions of babies and mothers sleep close to one another and they wake up just fine.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says he knew from the start that these ads would be controversial – and he’s glad.

“They evoke strong emotions. They open a dialogue about unsafe sleeping,” he says.

Barrett says he, too, was initially put off by the ads.

“When my health commissioner first showed me these ads, I recoiled a bit. I thought, are they too provocative, too raw?” he recalls.

Barrett says he changed his mind when he remembered that 10 babies a year die from sudden infant death syndrome or suffocation in his city while sleeping in an adult bed.

“As uncomfortable as these ads made me feel, that discomfort in no way comes close to the way I feel when I learn about another co-sleeping death,” he says.

He adds that the ads include a telephone number to call to get a free crib, as many of these deaths occur in the poorest areas of Milwaukee.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says infants should never share a bed during sleep, but some doctors advocate the "family bed."

Sears told CNN that a bassinet that pulls alongside a parents’ bed is “probably the safest for most parents.” He adds that babies should sleep on firm mattresses and  sleep only with mothers, as only moms “have that awareness of baby’s presence.”


soundoff (232 Responses)
  1. OrangeW3dge

    So just about anyone with Photoshop and a cause can say anything they want and exaggerate the truth to fit. And if it stirs up fears, all the better. The truth be damned. All of our babies slept in our bed because they fed every two hours, and nobody rolled over and smothered them. Of course we didn't drink or use sleeping pills, and we didn't get a lot of sleep for a while either. Most of the mammalian species keep their newborns nearby, sleeping or waking. It has been proven that separation causes harm, so continuing to ignore nature and following wives-tales could also lead to unintentional abuse.

    November 19, 2011 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. kellio

    I am an advocate of co-sleeping. My baby had a seizure in the middle of the night and I never would have known it if we did not co-sleep. Also, I believe there are many more crib deaths than co-sleeping deaths.

    November 19, 2011 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J. Russell

      Ever hear of a baby monitor? Most moms put the crib or pack and play right next to the bed. I have known three moms that have accidentally suffocated their infants via co-sleeping. It's not trumped up hype....all of you who claim that it's not as serious(Co-Sleeping deaths) as it's made out to be. Sorry....EVEN one death is too many.
      It's amazing how many well educated moms are doing something so dangerous.

      March 31, 2018 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
  3. Ellie Bou

    Well, now i know how to Plan My Baby

    November 19, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fae

    People, get some context. In Milwaukee there is an EPIDEMIC of infant mortality. There have been a number of high profile tragedies where a little child has died after sleeping with an adult. In several of the cases the adult was high or drunk. In one case the child was the second of the mother's to have died the same way.

    This is a massive social problem in Milwaukee, and it can't be addressed while trying to coddle the feelings of over-privileged navel-gazers who want to 'co-sleep' with their babies.

    November 19, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mitch

      What you have is an epidemic of parents who are high or drunk. That's a different kind of social problem.

      November 19, 2011 at 21:51 | Report abuse |
    • Karrie

      Exactly as Mitch said. Address the drinking and drugs. Address the parenting problems.
      The problem is not bed sharing.

      November 21, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
  5. Heather

    When you try too hard to make a point and cross over into gross inaccuracy, then your point is lost completely. A baby who slept nightly beside a sharp knife would be seriously injured without a doubt. I co-slept with all three of my kids and not a single injury in all the years. I agree that it's possible co-sleeping could be more dangerous, but trying to compare it with sleeping next to a sharp object is beyond stupid and certainly won't make me change my mind.

    November 19, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Desiree

    Children die in cribs, also. The article mentions that there have been 515 deaths in an adult bed in 7 years. The article does not tell you the number of babies that died in the crib during the same period of time. I guarantee it is higher. Of all those deaths, many of them were from unsafe sleeping conditions or the parent was formula feeding, which is correlated in numerous studies to the mother being less aware of the babies prescence in the bed, although studies are not sure why this occurs. Regardless, unsafe sleeping conditions occur in the crib and in the family bed. We are better off promoting healthy habits for sleep and in general, such as breastfeeding which greatly reduces the risk of SIDS. It is int inherently unsafe to sleep with your child and is a joyous experience, one that I will treasure throughout my life and plan on continuing with all of my children.

    This ad is a common symptom of our society. Rather than educate people on their choices and allow them to make the best ones for themselves and their family, we prefer to tell everyone the "wrong" way or the "right" way and if you do not conform then you must be wrong and suffer harsh judgement. I will take the judgement and keep my baby nestled up on my chest, breastfeeding at the age of two and sleeping in bed.

    November 19, 2011 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karrie

      Thank you, Desiree, for posting an eloquent response. I agree with your statements whole heartedly.

      November 21, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
    • Half the story

      According to http://www.sids.org 2,500 infants die per year due to SIDS. That number does not include deaths with a known cause, such as suffocation or physical harm caused by sleeping in the bed of a parent.

      November 22, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
    • Diane M

      You make a great point. It seems that no matter what a parent or mother does where her body, pregnancy or child rearing is concerned, there is an endless line of people waiting to judge every single decision. I agree that education is the key to making god decisions about what is best for yourself an family. Everyone else can butt out and mind their own business.

      November 22, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • Adventure Bound

      Did Dr. Sears buy his degree or earn it? His logic is not sound, not sound at all.
      “Every night the world over, millions and millions of babies and mothers sleep close to one another and they wake up just fine.” True! Also, millions of people drive drunk and arrive at their destination safely. So, using Dr. Sears' logic, driving while intoxicated is not an unsafe act. Right?

      "....only moms “have that awareness of baby’s presence.” Does this mean that no deaths have occurred as a result of a mother/child sleep arrangement? Really? I have no words to describe the level of my derision regarding this statement.

      November 22, 2011 at 16:35 | Report abuse |
    • Public Health Minded

      While I understand that bed sleeping can be a great bonding experience, it does come with inherent risks that cannot be ignored. Deaths can occur in the bed that were not specifically caused by a parent rolling on a child. Newborns are not capable of lifting their head, and can become asphyxiated by compressible materials – specifically pillows and comforters. Unless you are willing to sleep without these, you are putting your newborn at an increased risk of death.
      What you are missing is the context and target audience of this ad. Milwaukee's infant mortality rates (10-23 deaths per 1,000 live births) are alarmingly high, and in certain zip-codes are worse than those of some 3rd world countries. There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status, region, and birth outcomes. Educational campaigns have been and continue to be waged in Milwaukee with little success. This campaign, as proven by all of these responses, was meant to provoke strong reactions in the community, with the hope of raising awareness and interest in finding a solution for the population. It should also be noted that the campaign does feature free cribs for families who cannot afford them, as opposed to just "shaming" the poor.
      Lastly, crib-related deaths do unfortunately also happen. Many of these, however, are also preventable and can be linked to compressible materials (pillows, comforters), mis-sized mattresses, and "bumper pads" (which have recently been outlawed in some cities nationwide). I am assuming that the cribs distributed in this campaign will come with both an educational resource, and qualify as a "safe" crib.

      November 22, 2011 at 20:03 | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Olson

      Desiree..My husband and I slept with our children. They had a organic cotton blanket on top of a sheepskin and were veryI
      comfortable. I am a doula and with just had an updated birthing class. Many people discussed this article and we were
      appalled at the image of a knife next to a baby. Children see these images not just adults. It reminds me of when my kids
      started school and right at the front door was the only sign that said"Gunfree Zone". Every school in town had one. So the
      first word each child learned was gun. It was so insane. Now the word gun was in my kids subconscious as being associated with school. Now some kids associate knives with babies. Wow..

      November 23, 2011 at 01:37 | Report abuse |
    • Mr

      Parent should be allowed to gamble with their kids just as they gamble with money. Let them roll on their babies and kill them. If that does not get them the raw milk will. Leave Americans alone. Bad parenting is a form of natural selection.

      November 25, 2011 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
    • dx2718

      I wonder do "babies in adult beds" include babies not co-sleeping, but sleeping alone in adult beds – perhaps because their parents cannot afford proper child beds, or the children don't sleep well in their cribs? "Rolling over on babies" is NOT a cause of SIDS because SIDS only refers to unknown reasons of death; that'd be a known reason. In any case, the chances of mom "rolling over on baby" is NIL if she's not drunk – with dad, maybe slightly higher than that but still pretty low. The moment you move towards baby, baby gets startled, cries out, and wakes the parent. So no, this is not about "rolling over on babies."

      And Desiree is absolutely right; the idea that co-sleeping causes SIDS is a fallacy, as it ignores all correlated factors. I'm not sure about formula/breast feeding, but I've heard that smoking parents are more likely to have babies with SIDS. And it seems plausible that SIDS due to smoking parents is more likely to occur in bed with the smokers; as anyone who's been around a smoker knows, the toxic fumes linger on their bodies long after the cigarette has gone out, and it seems likely that a baby nestling next to those toxic fumes could be killed by them.

      I wonder what they'd find if they tried to correlate co-sleeping with SIDS but eliminate all possible mediators or moderators, like smoking. My guess is they'd find that co-sleeping is only a risk factor in conjunction with other risk factors.

      November 30, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  7. Susan Carroll

    If the parents are not drunk or stoned or drugged, parents will wake up, and so will the baby. I always knew when the baby was in bed with us. My mother did not breast feed, but we all slept in our parent's bed when we were little. I breast fed, and got way more sleep than those sitting in a chair to feed the baby. How many babies die in their cribs each year? Put in both numbers, or none at all.

    November 20, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • No judging

      It's not true that a parent has to be under the influence of something to accidentally smother a baby. It happens to well-meaning parents who fall asleep while nursing or are simple "deep sleepers," as well. Just because it didn't happen to you does NOT mean it doesn't accidentally happen to responsible parents. Please stop spreading this hurtful untruth.

      November 21, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
  8. Emily

    This ad should have been used to educate parents on the correct way to co-sleep. Keeping babies safe is a priority, but parents need to be able to make good, informed decisions. This ad discourages critical thinking and good decision making.

    November 20, 2011 at 02:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Candice

    When I slept with my newborn, I woke one night to a jerking movement next to me. My daughter was unable to breathe – it was almost as though she was choking, and her lips were turning blue. I pick her up and tapped her back, nursed her, and we both went back to sleep. I absolutely shudder to think what may have happened if she was in a crib. Another case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

    November 20, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TiffanyA

      The same thing happened for me when my son had a seizure! Had he been elsewhere to sleep I wouldn't have known.

      November 20, 2011 at 22:49 | Report abuse |
    • JK

      Has it ever occurred to you that your baby may have been having trouble breathing because the bed was too crowded?

      November 21, 2011 at 22:29 | Report abuse |
  10. cm

    I'd like to see how many infants pass away in the crib to compare. any news story can move figures and stats around to carry an agenda.

    I personally believe in co-sleeping but my husband does not like to. we came to the agreement of co-sleeping past 4am lol. i breastfeed and the baby spends early morning hours with us and nurses. it works for us. but i allways did night feedings in bed and moved him back to the crib when he was very small because i would rather dose in bed then sitting in a chair half asleep holding him.

    November 20, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Arleen

    The "family bed", used by responsible parents, provides safety, bonding, comfort, and an ease - especially for nursing throughout the night......If parents are concerned about rolling or smothering an infant, place the baby's crib next to the adult bed - and remove the one side of the crib facing the bed....Just make sure that the crib and bed are securely fastened - and that they are at the same level.....In this environment, the baby can be cuddled and nursed - and still have a separate sleeping space if needed........And parents can still have their intimacy...

    November 20, 2011 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. TiffanyA

    Both of my sons have slept in my bed from Day 1. Mothers are a much lesser danger to their baby because mothers do not get into a deep sleep and are aware of the baby throughout the night. The only cases I have ever heard of personally, are those involving fathers rolling over onto the baby. Fathers sleep much more soundly, and "dead to the world." I would never let my husband sleep with the boys. He sleeps in the other room (for snoring reasons as well.) A mother-children bed works very well for us and has bonded us even more. I am angered by these ads. It's just not that cookie-cutter. Co-sleeping is not dangerous for everyone.

    November 20, 2011 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr

      Don't look at the ads. Good luck know it all

      November 25, 2011 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
  13. Dwmom

    SIDS, by definition, has no known cause. The medical examiner makes a diagnosis of exclusion. So suffocation by a fluffy duvet is not, by definition, SIDS. Safe co-sleeping reduces SIDS risk.

    November 20, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jaya

      I like the fact that you mentioned that safe co-sleeping actually reduces the risk of SIDS. Very important point that often gets left out.

      November 21, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse |
  14. bethany

    to all those that are calling each other names because one person thinks it wrong and the other thinks it right stop and think....how many people who are leaving comments slept with your parents rather it be when you were sick or scared or whatever? letting your child sleep with you ensures love into the child and the child grows up knowing he/she has parents who love them and will protect them. if you let them sleep with you because you cant afford a crib thats just going to make the parent-child relationship stronger later in life. i slept with my parents until i was 5 and im here and alive and my 2 year old son sleeps with me and his father and hes as healthy as can be. everyone is taking this way too seriously its not that big of a deal.

    November 21, 2011 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Miranda

      Just because you are alive and your kid is alive is not proof co-sleeping is safe. I volunteer with an animal sanctuary. Do you know how many people say, "I've let my cat out to roam for years and it's never gotten run over..." Just because it doesn't happen to you doesn't negate the fact it happens and it happens a lot. Some die and some do not. Do you want to be the one that winds up with a dead baby or a dead cat?!

      We're supposed to put babies to sleep on their backs to keep them safe. Well millions of us slept on our tummies and our kids slept on their tummies and we're all still alive. Should we forget what the current thinking is and put our kids on their tummies or change old habits? It amounts to the same kind of thinking.

      November 21, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  15. bethany

    its also a personal choice dont put someone down because of the way they choose to live or take care of their child. its nobody elses business if your child sleeps with you or doesnt sleep with you. just because you dont agree with it doesnt make it wrong.

    November 21, 2011 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. luckymom

    I see it both side of the story.I have dont the co sleeping an yes its more sleep and yes its bonding with your child. In all honestly tho we sometimes take it to far. kids should not be in bed with their parents untill three or four years old.at that age they should be in their own bed unless you rather fight to get them in their own bed.but hey its a free country dont what you wanna do.i did the co sleeping for three months tops. after that it was same room sleeping.if you truely have this "mothers intuition" then you have a feeling that somethings wrong with out them being in the same bed.my son slept in the same room on the other side of the room and i would wake up if he breathed the wrong way.

    November 21, 2011 at 07:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. luckymom

    Typo *do want you want to do*

    November 21, 2011 at 07:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mary

    This is absolutely ludicrous! All 3 of my kids have slept with me in bed since they were born, my youngest now 5 is still sleeping with me. They all moved into their own beds in one day when the time was right. No parent who sleeps with their babies would EVER put the baby's head on a pillow as this ad shows, nor have any of the big blankets or pillows around them. They go flat down on the mattress with no pillows and I am turned and facing them. When you breastfeed, this is the perfect thing to do for both the mother and the baby. So, this ad is trying to create a situation in a shared bed, one that isn't there, and trying to make the bed all messy which is not the case at all. We also don't put our babies to bed naked in a diaper!

    November 21, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Cathy W

    That ad campaign went WAY over the top. It's a bit like suggesting that the best and only way to cut down on drunk driving deaths, is to forbid driving, rather than drinking prior to driving. Teach people HOW to co-sleep safely, not forbid it entirely. Don't do it if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The mattress must be firm. No fluffy blankets near the baby. Don't do it if you happen to sleep too deeply. Stuff like that.

    November 21, 2011 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. drc239

    Co-sleeping is only an issue here in America. It's the norm in other countries. My husband & I coslept with our son for his entire first year of life. If we have more children, we will do the same. It was the right choice for us. We do not drink and we do not take drugs of any kind. I also made sure that our son slept closer to me (since Mothers tend to be more aware of a baby's presence than a Father) and I made sure our son slept a little higher up on the bed than us ... this way if one of us rolled toward him, it was our heads/face toward his body ... instead of his little head being level with our chests (which seemed more of a danger of suffocation especially since I was a breast feeding Mother with engorged breasts). I also chose not to sleep with a pillow during that time. While I appreciate "facts," I don't like when they are one sided. Tell us how many babies die alone in their cribs each year. Tell me how many co-sleeping babies died because the parents were under the influence of something. Let's not blame & point fingers, let's not judge ... but let's get educated so parents can make their own personal choices and be aware of any & all dangers.

    November 21, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Serious Person

    I know in a really high percentage of co-sleeping baby deaths, the parent has been drinking or doing drugs. They are almost never sober. I wish that information had been included. That paints a more complete picture.

    November 21, 2011 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Cindy

    The mayor thinks he is doing a good thing, but he isn't. Its terrible to scare women out of taking care of their babies the best they can. Co-sleeping promotes nursing. Deaths from co-sleeping almost always involve some drug or alcohol use. It seems like the major is trying to do something controversial to get some attention. Its too bad he chose to interfere with the health of babies, even against the advice of brilliant doctors such as Dr. Sears. It would be nice if the mayor could get his attention some other way.

    November 22, 2011 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. No name

    i agree with both sides of the story but theres no wronge way of putting ur child to sleep some poeple have them in bed some have them in cribs or bassenets everyone was put to sleep in a different way and many live but sometimes there are accidents of parents butting big fluffy blankets on there babys or putting fluffy pillows under there head i think that everyone has there own opion in this and i respect everyone own method on doing it like my child sleeps in my bed only sometimes when he wants to but most of the time he tells me hes a bigboy and gets in his own bed

    November 22, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Half the story

    According to http://www.sids.org roughly 2,500 infants (under the age of 1) die per year of SIDS. SIDS does not include death by suffocation (a common and preventable risk in an adult bed) or body harm caused by the parent while sleeping. So in 7 years 515 infants died in their parent's bed, while 2,500 die yearly in their crib? Even sids.org recommends that infants sleep in their parent's room to reduce the risk. They do not recommend the "typical adult bed" as there are a wide away of risks, most which are preventable (suffociation from blankets, rolling over, infant falling, etc.)

    Dr Sears has a long list of things you can do to prevent injury/death while still bed sharing. If a parent makes sure to follow the precautions then bedsharing can be a wonderful and safe thing. If they are unwilling/unable to take the precautions then they should, by all means, give the baby their own bed. In my household our infant sleeps in her crib next to our bed so she is safe but gets the room sharing benefits.

    We should focus more on how to make the infants safe instead of targeting groups of parents and going "you are wrong". I found the statistics an interesting shock factor which pales in comparison to the real risk of SIDS which can occur anywhere. Your baby is not automatically safe if placed in a crib if the parent is not educated on the real factors of safe sleeping (no blankets, firm mattress, etc.)

    November 22, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Liv Willamo

    The most stupid thing I ever heard. To sleep with your child is the most natural thing we can do. To my surprise there is not a single word about passive smoking in the article. To expose your child to cigarette smoke is the real killer. I wonder how many parents among those children who died where smoker ?

    November 22, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. jd

    I breastfed my three sons in the bed from the time they were newborn until they were 5 months old. I was a light sleeper, and was always aware of them–mother's instinct. When my husband would start to roll over I would instantaneously awaken and put my hand on his back to protect the baby. I never lost an hour of sleep this way, and they were very safe. Of course, having a King Size bed helps. It is natural for mothers to sleep with the baby. If the mother is on drugs or drinking, I wouldn't recommend it. Instinct flies out the window then.

    November 23, 2011 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Cremulous

    Bring on the cream!

    November 23, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Matt

    I usually don't comment in these threads. It is seldom productive. I am a co sleeping parent who has thought long and hard about this issue. It seems to me co sleeping can be done responsibly and safely, if both parent understand the dangers and mitigate the risks. Here is a research article that does a good job of tackling the issue:
    http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/cosleeping.pdf

    Be safe.
    Matt

    November 24, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jesse

    We know people that still sleep with their mommy at 25 years old....its REALLY CREEPY!!

    November 30, 2011 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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  32. Ally

    I want to know out of the approx. 125 people that did rolled on their children how many were drunk or high ?

    October 5, 2015 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. dkarpulk

    sleeping with an infant in your bed is absolutely ridiculous– common sense says baby needs to be in own crib in parents room-always was the way people did it years ago . where do these supposedly savvy young people come up with these ideas– co-sleeping my derriere! cant believe that – they are defending this stupid practice and needlessly exposing their baby
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