Does your baby wake up at night to breastfeed, often many times? Are you trying to manage working long hours, keep your milk supply up, get some quality snuggle-time with your baby and still be able to function the next day? Have you ever brought your baby into bed in an effort to co-sleep with your little one? Did you find that it solved most of your nighttime parenting issues? It is not suprising since it is biologically NORMAL for breastfed babies wake to breastfeed about every two hours, even during the night, and especially in the first few months. In addition, the milk-making hormone, prolactin, is highest between 0100 and 0500 hours, so having your baby breastfeed during the night helps to increase and maintain your milk supply as well as filling his little belly. We, as mammals, are hard-wired to share sleep and breastfeed throughout the night.
Sharing sleep is how many military mothers manage to feed their babies and get some much needed rest. They choose to share sleep (co-sleep) with their babies and this makes particularly good sense for breastfed babies. Sharing sleep with a breastfed baby makes life easy for everyone involved. Because your sleep cycles are in sync, when you are in a light sleep period as your baby begins rooting around for the nipple, you wake just enough to latch him on and drift back to sleep. Your baby nurses without ever fully awakening and pops off when he is done, falling back into a deep sleep. You both get a full night’s sleep, even if your baby wakens to nurse 3-4 times, as neither of you wakes up fully. In fact, research has found that mothers who breastfeed and share sleep get more sleep at night than formula feeding mothers. Many military mothers feel that the benefits of sharing sleep go beyond the obvious easier breastfeeding and more sleep, to include being together for an additional 8-9 hours of physical contact. It may not seem like much since you will both be asleep, but it is comforting for you both. Sharing sleep and allowing your baby to nurse at night also helps to maintain your milk supply.
There are numerous ways to share sleep, none of which are any better or worse than another, but all share the same safety measures. Some parents find that dropping the rail of the crib and putting it right up along-side the adult bed works, while other parents buy a ready-made “Co-Sleeper” unit that attaches to the adult bed. Many parents start the baby out in their own crib and then bring baby to bed with them at the first nursing session, while others choose to have baby in bed with them all night. If you choose to bed-share follow these guidelines:
- Do not sleep with your baby if you or your partner is under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs that make you sleepy.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you or your partner smokes.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you or your partner is obese.
- Lay your baby down on a firm, flat, regular mattress. Do not co-sleep on a couch, sofa, recliner or waterbed.
- There should be no space between the mattress and headboard or wall that would allow your baby’s head to become entrapped.
- No pillows, duvets, comforters or stuffed animals should be near your baby.
- Do not leave your baby alone on an adult bed.
- Do not place your baby on a bed with other children or pets.
- Babies should be placed on their backs (supine).
If you find that sharing sleep is what works for your family, than be rest assured that it is a healthy and wonderful way to remain close to your baby, it allows for breastfeeding through the night and can be done safely if you follow the guidelines given above. There is a lot more information available about co-sleeping, this article has only covered the main points, please see the ISIS (Infant Sleep Information Source) and website of Dr. James McKenna (University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory) for evidenced-based information and safe co-sleeping handouts. You can also check out the Books section for the titles of some books that are highly recommended.