By Margo Kennedy, CNM~
Breastsleeping describes the practice of a breastfeeding mom safely sharing a sleep surface with her baby. This phrase was coined by an infant sleep researcher, James McKenna, PhD from the University of Notre Dame.
Sleeping with a breastfeeding baby is a biological norm. Mammals are known to breastfeed throughout the day and night in the first few years of life.
Human breastmilk is low in protein and fat which makes it easier to digested. Because of this, breastfed babies often need to eat more frequently, so human babies have evolved to interact and eat during the night.
This access to the breast in the night ensures an adequate supply to match the rapidly growing baby.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that parents were told that a “good baby” was one that slept alone and through the night in a separate room. This new advice was not evidence-based and often undermined successful breastfeeding.
Benefits of Breastsleeping
Researchers are now uncovering the physical and emotional benefits of sleeping in close proximity to our babies and providing skin-to-skin contact
- Skin to skin contact increases oxytocin, the hormone of love, and decreases stress levels in both mom and baby
- Decreases the risk of SIDS and increases immunological health because:
- It causes them to go through lighter stages of sleep
- They arouse more often and breastfeed more frequently
- Babies left untouched for longer periods have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- When mothers are responsive to their babies at night, babies learn the world is a safe place and that their needs are heard and important
Here are some safety guidelines you should adhere to when bed sharing and breastsleeping.
- Flat, firm mattress
- No fluffy duvet/pillows that could obstruct baby’s face
- No gaps between the mattress/wall
- No hanging cords nearby
- Never sleep on a sofa, water bed, recliner, or other non-firm mattress
- No pets should be in the bed
- Both parents should feel comfortable with the decision to co-sleep
- Baby should be healthy and full-term
- Mother should be exclusively breastfeeding if baby is under 6 months old (no formula or solids)
- Both parents should be sober and not under the influence of smoking/drugs/alcohol/prescription drugs
- Mother should not have smoked during pregnancy
- Neither parent should be obese
- Baby should not be swaddled
- Baby should be on his back (some will sleep on their side with their face to the breast as well)
- Bottlefed babies should always sleep alongside the mother on a separate surface
- Extremely long hair should be tied up
University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory
The Safe Sleep Seven-La Leche League International