Nursing Baby in Bed

Co-sleeping: napping or nighttime sleeping with your baby.

by Sue Petracek, IBCLC

I don’t know how to start this topic without putting my own personal experience and biases out on the table first: even if there weren’t dozens of other good reasons to breastfeed, I think being able to feed your baby and doze at the same time is reason enough to breastfeed. Each of my kids spent time in bed with my husband and I, breastfeeding and sleeping in what seemed like the most obvious way to handle nighttime parenting. In fact, even today, my husband loves to tell new fathers that it is “their job” to get up and bring the baby to bed when baby’s ready to feed, his intonation saying, “This can make you a hero with your wife, but you really get out of all the work.”

At that time, the biggest objection I heard to bringing your baby to bed was that you might not be able to get the baby out of your bed as they got older. I eagerly traded the remote possibility of minor issues later to the very immediate gratification of getting to curl up in a warm bed with my baby.

I asked for comments on the subject in our newsletter last month. Marie wrote:
I would lie on my side and pull her close to me, on her side. I would wedge a small rolled blanket behind her back to keep her in place. It felt wonderful to have the whole length of her pressed to me, and soon, we would both just drift back off to sleep. She never had to cry, as she was right with me, and I knew when she was ready, with her searching and smacking her lips :) I hardly missed any sleep at all! In fact, when she began sleeping in her crib, 4 months later, my husband had to wake me up the first few nights, as I was not used to her cries in the night.

And Michelle:
When we first brought our first daughter home (she's now 2 years old) I would try to nurse her in the nursery so as not to bother my husband in our room. It ended up taking longer to get her back to sleep from all of the movement to the nursery and putting her back into the bassinet. After about 2 sleep-deprived weeks, I read about nursing in bed and decided to give it a shot. It worked out great! I just made sure that she was always on the inside of the bed so that she would not roll off. Now, when we brought home our new baby boy (he's now 10 weeks) I went to nursing in bed right away.

As a lactation consultant, I eagerly read James McKenna’s research with moms and babies, bringing them into a sleep lab three nights running: one night they slept together in the same bed, one night separately, and the third night randomized. In addition to the personal feel-good reasons to sleep with your baby, and the survival of the species logic (if the babies slept away from mom, chances are the wolves would have had their way with them and we wouldn’t be here), here was evidence-based support for moms and babies sleeping together.

In McKenna's lab, moms and babies sleeping together had synchronous sleep cycles (deep sleep, light sleep, etc.) Babies didn’t go into as deep a sleep with mom as they did alone; their respiratory rates and the blood gas content were interactive and other sensory stimuli encouraged the baby to rouse himself and breastfeed more often...often with mom’s sleep being barely disturbed.

Since one hypothesis for SIDS is that a baby may fall into such a deep sleep that his immature neurological system forgets to trigger breathing, the effect of baby sleeping with mom is actually protective. Dr. William Sears says sleeping with baby is a one proactive step parents can take to avoid the SIDS tragedy.

Many moms I talk to are concerned about rolling onto their baby in their sleep. Called “overlaying” in reports, in the instances where this happens, usually the adults involved were under the influence of alcohol or drugs which dulled their awareness of the baby’s presence. I encourage moms to try sleeping with their baby for a nap when someone else is in the house to check on them now and then; this may help them feel comfortable before trying nighttime sleep together.

It is important to make a safe bed sharing environment however. This calls for a fairly firm mattress and light covers, keeping pillows and extra bedding away from the baby. Mom and baby warm one another, so baby doesn’t need to be dressed any more warmly than mom. Make sure the baby can’t roll off or slip into a crevice between headboard and bed. For some couples a sidecar type bed will suit them better. Whatever you design for yourselves, don’t cosleep on a sofa or couch; these have cushions and pillows which can shift and move such that baby could become trapped.

Give bed sharing a try for your baby’s sake. You’ll continue because you love it.

Breastfeeding and working: Tip of the month

  • How long to pump? The younger your baby is, the more stimulation you need. Whether it’s baby suckling or time spent pumping, longer stimulation triggers more milk. For a younger baby, it’s probably a good idea to watch the clock and pump 10-15 minutes even if there isn’t milk coming out the whole time.
    The older your baby is, the more efficient your body becomes at producing milk. Milk production is influenced less by hormone levels and more by thorough emptying of the breast (the more often it is “emptied”, the more milk you make). So pump until your breasts feel soft and the milk flow seems to have stopped.

Next month...

Breastfeeding and Obesity. Also, please send us your comments, suggestions and experiences about being a breastfeeding mom. We might include your story!

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