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This Is How Co-Sleeping Can Support Breastfeeding – And How You Can Do It Safely

By Wendy Wisner, IBCLC

One of the things that surprised me most about breastfeeding was just how frequently my baby wanted to do it. I was told that babies needed to nurse every 2-3 hours, and would sleep a longer stretch at night. But that was not my experience at all.

I quickly realized that babies didn’t have little clocks in their head, and that they didn’t give a crap if it was 2pm or 2am. They wanted to eat when they wanted to eat, and it was a whole lot more often than I expected. So, I went with my instincts, and nursed on demand – which for my baby was almost hourly, including at night.

bed-sharing, breastfeeding, cosleeping

Yes, my baby nursed all night for many months. It took me a while to realize that this was actually totally normal, but at first I was just in survival mode. So, I did what many breastfeeding mothers do: I took my baby into bed with me, learned how to nurse him lying down (the side-lying position is a must for breastfeeding moms), and got as much sleep as I could while waking up periodically to nurse.

I thought what I was doing was kind of unusual, but I’ve learned – both as a mom who nursed for a total of more than 10 years, and a lactation consultant – that sharing sleep with your baby (bed-sharing), or having your baby in the same room with you while you sleep (co-sleeping) is actually really common, and a fantastic way to support your breastfeeding relationship.

Here are some reasons why. Ready?

Sleeping with or near your baby…

  1. Keeps up your milk supply. Nursing at night is actually really important for an ample milk supply, especially in the first few months of life (and beyond too!).
  2. Keeps your baby happy, well fed, and well rested. If you tend to and nurse your baby before they fully wake, they are less likely to cry, wake up all the way, or be deprived of important nutrition.
  3. Allows you the important rest you need. It’s a fact that your baby will wake up, whatever you do (even sleep trained babies regress), so having to rouse as little as possible from sleep to tend to your baby’s needs is HUGE. I would get to a place where I could sleep through the feedings, not even sure how many times I woke up to nurse.
  4. Gets your partner involved. You are not the only one who can do this. If you have a partner, get them to shush your baby, bring your baby to you if your baby is in a nearby crib or co-sleeper. Heck, you can even have your partner bring your baby to breast and latch them on.
  5. Is natural, normal, and just “feels right.”There is something to be said for doing something that most of us feel compelled to do. Many of us just want our baby close at night, and it’s a beautiful thing to do what our mother hearts are telling us to do.


bed sharing, breastfeeding, cosleeping

 Okay, okay, you might be saying, but is bed-sharing or co-sleeping safe? While the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) wholeheartedly supports having your baby sleep in your room for the first six months in a separate space like bassinet or crib, they do not recommend taking your baby into bed with you. But other specialists and doctors have a different take.

Professor James McKenna, an anthropologist and expert on infant sleep who has authored several books on the subject, says that sharing a bed with a breastfeeding infant is absolutely safe. He makes it clear that this is not necessarily the case with bottle feeding babies, because they are not biologically programed to rouse as frequently or with as caution as breastfeeding mothers are.

In an article published in Acta Paediatrica, McKenna argues that breastfeeding mothers are likely to take their babies into bed anyway, so rather than scaring or shaming them, what we should do is teach them safe bed-sharing practices. In his article, he points to studies that have found bed-sharing to be an insignificant risk to an infant if a mother practices safe sleep. After 3 months, he says, sharing a bed with your baby is actually offers extra protection.

So what are these safety practices you should keep in mind? McKenna has a “cheat sheet” on his website, but some of the highlights include that babies should sleep on clear, firm beds (no couches or easy-chairs), without excessive blankets or pillows nearby. You should only bedshare if you don’t smoke, and are sober. You should also take care to be sure there are no gaps between the bed and wall, and that bedrails are used on raised beds, so your baby doesn’t fall out of bed (another option is to keep your mattress on the floor).

Aside from the safety concerns, maybe the biggest hurdle facing bed-sharing/co-sleeping parents is judgement and criticism from others. I know it’s hard to deal with at first, but the fact of the matter is, this is your baby, your life, and your choice. What others think just doesn’t matter in the long-run. It really doesn’t. I promise.

So what are you waiting for? Take that baby to bed with you, or keep them close-by. Nurse, snuggle up, and enjoy. Your baby and your boobs will be forever grateful.

Wendy is the mom of two awesome boys, a freelance writer and editor, and a lactation consultant (IBCLC). Find her on the web at www.wendywisner.com.