Sleeping With Your Baby Encourages Breastfeeding: Is Bed-Sharing Safe?

Research has linked co-sleeping to a longer duration of breastfeeding. Image by Karpati Gabor

Research has linked co-sleeping to a longer duration of breastfeeding. Image by Karpati Gabor

Do you ever lie down or sleep with your baby at night? If so, when you lie down or sleep together, do you and the baby stay there? Or do you keep awake, finish feeding, and put your baby somewhere else while you sleep?”

University of Maryland and University of Virginia researchers who monitored mother’s co-sleeping behaviors asked women these questions. Answers were grouped into four categories: Moms who never, rarely, moderately, or often shared sleeping space with their babies. The data was combined with breastfeeding patterns of the 1,846 women polled. All participants had been exclusively nursing two-week-old infants at the beginning of the study.

What Does Co-Sleeping Mean for Breastfeeding Moms?

Polls were repeated at set intervals until the babies reached their first birthday. It turns out that frequent co-sleeping was positively associated with exclusive breastfeeding, defined as giving nothing but breastmilk to the infant, for about six months and with regular nursing that continued 12 months or more.

Co-Sleeping Around the World

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to room-share but not bed-share with their infants. This means that babies should sleep in the same room as parents but not in the same bed. However, in the Netherlands, which along with Japan boasts the lowest rates of SIDS internationally, parents are advised only to delay bedsharing until the infant is at least 3 months old. In the U.K. and Australia, parents are told not to bedshare only if their infant is considered high-risk.

This study determined that in the U.S., white, well-educated, and experienced mothers of higher socioeconomic status preferred to co-sleep more often, and thus breastfed longer, than those who rarely or never practiced co-sleeping. The wisdom of these mothers, as well as the hypothesis of the researchers, was confirmed by the study results: Co-sleeping does promote breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding and Baby

Does it matter how long you nurse your infant? Important benefits attributed to long-term breastfeeding include better maternal-infant bonding and attachment, increased child intelligence and improved mental health outcomes, less infections and allergies, lower rates of autism, diabetes, obesity – and decreased maternal rates of breast cancer and osteoporosis.

But breastfeeding isn’t always easy. Up to 90% of the participants in this study reported having breastfeeding problems in the first two weeks, with more than 60% giving breastfeeding as a reason for bedsharing, a practice also known as co-sleeping.

Don’t be confused by this term, though. The study did not include the use of commercially-designed cots that claim to keep babies separate but in close proximity to mothers at night, called “co-sleepers” by the manufacturers.

Click to Read Page Two: SIDS, Co-Sleeping, and Breastfeeding

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