This Woman Was Charged With Manslaughter for the Death of Her Baby

In October of this year, Florida mother Erin Piche-Pitts let her baby fall asleep next to her in bed, a not uncommon practice that the CDC nevertheless sternly warns against. 

Her son Javier was just a few weeks old when Piche-Pitts settled the child "propped up by a pillow, with his head in the crook of her arm," according to local news channel FOX 13. Piche-Pitts then fell asleep. She woke up; Javier did not.

A few weeks later, the 25-year-old woman was charged with aggravated manslaughter in Javier's death, but was only arrested on Tuesday. The reasoning that prosecutors used wasn't just that Piche-Pitts was neglectful, but that this was the second child who had died in her care. A 13-day-old daughter died in 2009 in the same way Javier did: accidental suffocation — this time while Piche-Pitts was breastfeeding in bed and then fell asleep.

Florida prosecutors made it clear that they weren't arresting her simply because her child accidentally died.

"These are very, very difficult cases,” Polk County prosecutor Brian Haas told the New York Times. “We are not charging parents with crimes because accidents happen. There has got to be something more to it.” In this case, the accusation is that Piche-Pitts committed neglect by doing something she had been trained not to do and that had previously had a disastrous result.

Her arrest highlights a controversial practice: bed-sharing. 

Unlike co-sleeping, which the March of Dimes describes as sleeping "close enough to your baby that you can see, hear, touch or smell each other," bed-sharing means exactly what its name suggests. 


According to Fox 13, Piche-Pitts had been counseled by the Florida Department of Health — with both pregnancies — about the dangers of sharing a bed with her child, which include "sudden infant death syndrome and other dangers during sleep, like suffocation."

Yet, according to research cited by USA Today, "nearly 14 percent of the nearly 19,000 adults surveyed in 2010 said their infants usually shared a bed, either with parents or another child, instead of sleeping alone in a crib."

As parenting blogs note, bed-sharing with infants is almost unavoidable, as infants need to be fed at all hours, often by exhausted mothers who sometimes fall asleep while nursing.

Other mothers simply want to do it, claiming that it strengthens the bond they have with their babies

For these reasons, bed-sharing guidelines continue to evolve. 

Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics gave clear guidelines that parents and young children should sleep in separate spaces at all times. Yet they also acknowledged that this is essentially impossible, and in October, they revised their guidelines to give advice for safe bed-sharing.

But their overall recommendations are the same: babies should be placed on their back on a firm mattress, with no pillow under them, and no blanket over them.

Arrests of parents in the deaths of co-sleeping children are extremely rare, and they almost always take place because of avoidable circumstances such as intoxication or another child already having died in their care.

For example, a Wisconsin woman was charged with reckless homicide in October after she drunkenly fell asleep next to her baby, who died. A Pennsylvania mother was charged with homicide in September after her infant child suffocated in bed between her and an older son — the second baby she'd lost in such a fashion. And a Texas woman received a ten year prison sentence because her child died while sleeping with her, in another instance of a second co-sleeping death hitting one family.