What if someone told you, new mom, that there could be a way to get more sleep at night with your newborn or infant, no fussing or crying necessary? And what if all you needed was just your boobs and your bed?
Breastsleeping, according to one expert, could be your answer.
In fact, some of you may already be doing it.
And it’s as simple of a concept as it sounds.
Breastsleeping is when a breastfeeding mother co-sleeps with her infant, allowing the baby to nurse on demand throughout the night without leaving the comfort of bed.
The term was coined by prominent anthropologist and researcher James McKenna, who heads up the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep lab at the University of Notre Dame. He’s long been a researcher of an advocate for safe cosleeping.
The breastsleeping arrangement, as described by McKenna and Lee Gettler in this research article, can help accomplish several things: a better nursing latch for the baby, a more reliable milk supply for mom, and hopefully more sleep for both.
And the benefits, McKenna says, begin right away.
“[T]he neonate’s first latch sets in motion accelerated milk production but also the start of a specific kind of mother–infant sensory and signalling relationship that, over the weeks ahead, likely promotes a particular trajectory of infant neural development.”
That means a close relationship between mom and baby. McKenna goes on to describe how the mother’s body is the perfect vessel for not only nourishment but also comfort—uniquely and singularly equipped to “do it all.”
And, assuming that the breastsleeping is done safely, in an environment free from noted potential dangers, breastsleeping can really pay off for mom and baby, in the form of better rest for both and better nourishment for baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for the record, says moms should sleep in the same room as baby but not on the same surface, for the first six months of baby’s life.
But despite the AAP’s stand on cosleeping, mothers for years have still chosen breastsleeping, even if they didn’t know the specific term for it. And if you choose it, be prepared to become an all-hours milk bar, of sorts. But this stage doesn’t last forever, and as any mom who nursed for an extended period of time will recall, the time between baby’s feedings eventually space out naturally.
And breastsleeping moms may also be comforted by McKenna’s research that shows that, while you may wake up more frequently, you and baby will likely also go back to sleep much more quickly than if you were rising out of bed, feeding, and then soothing back down.
But, per McKenna, the benefits of bedsharing aren’t minor—one of them, protection from SIDS.
“SIDS itself … is breastmilk-dose dependent: That is, the more the breastfeeding, the greater the protection.”
And, McKenna says, bedsharing can also help reduce your baby’s nighttime crying, allow them to settle in more quickly after nursing to fall back asleep, and can also strengthen your bond with baby.
The bedsharing and breastsleeping route may be more than some moms want, and that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. And my general theory on mom advice is to take what you want and leave the rest. But it’s good to know that moms who have followed their instinct and breastslept may have indeed been onto something good.
As for me, I’ve breastslept with all three of my kids before I knew it was a thing. And I can say, while I wouldn’t call those nights the best quality sleep, they were definitely very restful. And I’ve also found breastsleeping to be incredibly important in maintaining my mental health in my postpartum periods.
The cosleeping/bedsharing/and now breastsleeping debate is fraught. Most moms have strong opinions either way. And hey, wonderful children have been raised in all sorts of ways. It’s your choice as a mom on how you want to start your journey, but it’s always good to know your options.
Did you co-sleep or breastsleep? What are your thoughts on sharing the same bed as baby? I’d love to hear your thoughts in Comments below!