Breastfeeding - noun - the action of feeding a baby with milk from the breast.
Co-sleeping - noun - the practice of parents and young children sleeping in the same bed.
Combine the two and you get breastsleeping!
If you haven't familiarized yourself with Dr. James McKenna's work yet, it should definitely be on your to-do list. Surely, along your journey in learning all you can about pregnancy, birth, and parenting the topic of sleep has arisen. After all, it is the number 1 most common topic postpartum. With that in mind, consider that the information you've been given could be one-sided. The American Academy of Pediatrics (therefore, likely your child's pediatrician and your OB or midwife) states safe sleep guidelines as follows:
Cool. But there's SO much more to family sleep, especially in those early months.
Now, I will give the AAP credit and say that they adjusted their recommendations to state that "Place your baby back in his or her own sleep space when you are ready to go to sleep. If there is any possibility that you might fall asleep, make sure there are no pillows, sheets, blankets, or any other items that could cover your baby's face, head, and neck, or overheat your baby. As soon as you wake up, be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed. (See here.)". But that's it and. most physicians will shame you for even mentioning bedsharing.
While it's awesome that they are at least acknowledging that exhausted mothers fall asleep with their babies, safe bedsharing practices still need discussing. In reality, if the exhausted mother falls asleep with her baby as mentioned above and she has been made aware of safe bedsharing practices and her bed is set up as such, there is a far less risk to her baby than if she had only been told to never bedshare and to just move baby once she wakes up. And just to keep it relevant, studies show that between 60 and 70 percent of families who said they would never bedshare, end up doing it at some point. How many of those have done it in an unsafe way because our education on the topic is lacking?
In Dr. James McKenna's book Safe Infant Sleep, he outlines the benefits of breastsleeping which is biologically normal.
Here's his 9 benefits.
1. Greater breastmilk supply.
The closer you sleep to your baby and the more frequently you feed throughout the night, the better chance of maintaining a great supply (especially in those first few months!). Dr. McKenna states, "While the AAP advocates for mothers to breastfeed their infants for at least one full year, their recommendations against bedsharing actually undermine any mother’s ability to accomplish this goal. Breastsleeping is the very strategy by which many mothers, according to their own reports, can achieve their goal of extended breastfeeding" (Safe Infant Sleep, pg 95). Night nursing is key to maintaining a great supply.
2. More frequent breastfeeding.
More frequent feeds lead to less crying which equals energy conservation and calm wakefulness. And calm wakefulness is when babies do the most brain-building! For more on this, Dr. Dan Siegel's book The Whole Brain Child is a great read!
3. Longer breastfeeding sessions.
Baby receives enough calories which provides adequate nutrition and weight gain. Hindmilk is the high-fat, high-calorie breast milk that your baby gets toward the end of a feeding. Don't watch the clock. Allow your baby to breastfeed longer and you will give your baby more time to empty your breasts getting that higher calorie hindmilk.⠀⠀⠀
4. Longer breastfeeding period.
Longer breastfeeding over time leads to babies receiving all of the immunological and nutritional benefits for optimal growth and development. There's also benefits for you too, momma! The longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer as well as many other benefits.⠀
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months with continued breastfeeding along with food for up to 2 years of age or longer.⠀
5. Increased safety.
Breastfeeding babies are instinctively monitored throughout the night and are typically placed on their backs with their noses and mouths unobstructed. McKenna states "Most cultures that routinely practice cosleeping, in any form, have very low rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS occurrences are among the lowest worldwide in Hong Kong, where cosleeping is extremely common."⠀Furthermore, he states "If you learn anything from this book, I want it to be that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is not normally, if at all, caused by a baby sleeping in the same bed with his or her mother, especially a breastfeeding mother, in the absence of other risk factors."⠀
6. Increased infant sleep duration.
Infants who sleep alone cry loudly and long enough to get attention, therefore leading to less sleep duration than those who are close to their parents. Separate rooms became more prevalent "with rising affluence in the middle class and an increased value placed on individualism" and aren't historically normal. Worried about your own sleep if you room share? McKenna states, "multiple studies show that breastsleeping and room-sharing families actually get equal or more sleep than families who practice solitary sleep." More sleep all around!⠀⠀
7. Lower stress levels.
Less crying for needs to be met generally leads to lower stress and calmer babies. African babies do not cry unless something is horribly wrong and this is because culturally, their needs are met immediately and they are worn almost all day.⠀
8. Temperature regulation.
Babies are warmer sleeping next to their mothers and mothers regulate their baby's temperature subconsciously throughout the night. Human babies aren't born being able to keep themselves warm. Being next to Mom, this helps regulate their body temperature. Mom may also instinctually remove or add a blanket with an older baby. The correct temperature for sleep is important for the body to get optimal rest and reparation.⠀
9. Increased sensitivity to mother's communication.
And vice versa. There seems to be a heightened sensitivity to each other's smells, movements, and touches when sleeping nearby. Interestingly, McKenna states "The ongoing sensory exchanges (of touch, sound, smell, and taste) between mother and infant during breastfeeding — and the breastmilk itself — significantly change infant and maternal sleep architecture, infant metabolism, the efficiency of the infant’s immune system, and the infant’s microbiome (helpful bacteria)" (Safe Infant Sleep, pg 28).⠀
So there you have it. Do or did you breastsleep with your babies? Tell me in the comments below!
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and three children. As a maternal support practitioner and educator of family sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about family sleep, wellness, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, holistic health, and parenting.