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Breastsleeping…you heard some moms talking about it, but what in the world is it?!
If you assumed it had something to do with breastfeeding, you’re correct! In fact, it’s the name James McKenna, Ph.D., (director of Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame) gave to define the act where a breastfeeding mother sleeps in close proximity to her baby, feeding baby occurring throughout the night.
Now you might be thinking this is just co-sleeping, but it’s a little different.
And today, we’re going to break apart the myths surrounding breastsleeping AND all the FACTS you need to know about it!
Myth 1) Cosleeping and Breastsleeping – aren’t they the same?
Myth busted — nope, they sure aren’t!
Cosleeping is defined by “the practice of sleeping in the same bed or close by in the same room with one’s child” per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Breastsleeping, on the other hand, is coined to be the act of biological normal response of sleep between mom and baby; where a breastfeeding mom and baby sleep within arms reach of one another.
So why exactly should babies be breastsleeping?
Doesn’t the AAP recommend the exact opposite?
Yes, the AAP recommends that mom nurse baby in bed, but then safely return the baby to his/or her safe sleeping area. You can read the full AAP baby sleep recommendations here.
However, as most of us, nursing moms have probably experienced at one point or another, is that it’s EXTREMELY hard to stay awake during these late-night nursing sessions.
In fact, this study showed that 44% of mothers nursing in a sofa, recliner, or chair (all much more dangerous than the bed), fell asleep AT LEAST once! So where is the balance between whats biologically natural for mom and baby’s sleep/nursing pattern and practicing safe sleep for your baby?
Myth 2) Breastsleeping isn’t healthy for baby
According to one research paper by James J. McKenna, Ph.D. & Lee T. Gettler, MA, it states, “Breastfeeding mother-infant dyads are biologically designed (emotionally, socially and physiologically) to sleep next to each other, and the fact that their proximity settles infants, increases sleep for both, and enhances breastfeeding makes this arrangement hard for parents to steadfastly avoid.”
In fact, it seems as though there has been much more research and studies popping up supporting the same message — that an informed breastfeeding mother should be supported in her wishes to bed share with baby, after all, they’re biologically designed for it!
Now, there are some grey areas that can arise.
For instance, bottle-fed babies are recommended to sleep on a SEPARATE SURFACE from mom to reduce the risks of any posed dangers to the baby.
It’s also suggested that baby should NOT be swaddled; this is to increase their abilities to react if needed to help make mom aware of any potential issues as well as it being soothing skin-to-skin with mom.
Myth 3) Breastsleeping helps baby soothe and find comfort
This is absolutely CORRECT! Studies have shown that when we take away that skin to skin touch from babies for a prolonged period, DNA synthesis halts and growth hormones diminish! This is also one of the reasons skin-to-skin with parents is such a vital component for babies to receive after birth!
In fact, one study explicitly states, “Touch is the earliest form of sensory experience for a developing human being. Prenatally, the womb provides a constant sensation of being held…Experience of touch in early life influences the neurobiological development of multiple systems in mammals.“
If touch is THIS crucial for babies as they begin to experience and benefit from it within the womb, why would we be so fast to take it away once they’re out?
Because of how important the sensation and experience of touch is for babies, breastsleeping is an excellent way to continue giving baby what they need.
Breastsleeping safety guidelines to follow
Now, don’t be fooled. Breastsleeping doesn’t mean that just ANY breastfeeding mom can curl up next to baby and call it a day.
There are some VERY specific guidelines to follow if you want to be sure you’re practicing the safest precautions to keep baby safe while sleeping:
- Baby should be exclusively nursing from mom (no pumping, no bottles)
- Baby should NOT be swaddled
- Parents should be 100% sober and not under the influence of alcohol, drugs or even prescription medication that can cause drowsiness
- Baby should be on his/her back and may sometimes have their head turned towards breast
- Baby should be full-term with no health issues or concerns
- Baby should be placed IN BED on a firm stable mattress next to mom (no sofas, recliners, or other areas)
A quick way to remember all these guidelines is by following the ‘SAFE SLEEP SEVEN’, which you can read more about over at La Leche League.
The Safe Sleep Seven consists of the following rules:
1. A nonsmoker
2. Sober and unimpaired
3. A breastfeeding mother and your baby is:
4. Healthy and full-term
5. On his back
6. Lightly dressed
and you both are:
7. On a safe surface
In addition to these rules, you should also pay attention to how you’re positioning your body next to baby. Your body should be positioned in a breastfeeding cuddle curl.
Believe it or not, this is nature’s way of helping you protect your baby as you sleep. Your knees curl up preventing baby from slipping down or your partner from getting too close. Your arms lay under your head/pillow or wrap around baby.
The cuddle curl creates a protected space for your baby. There’s no way you, mom, can roll toward baby because your bent legs prevent this from happening. No one else can roll into the baby because your knees and elbows are in the way.
Anxious to know more? Check out the Safe Infant Sleep Book
The Breastsleeping Book, named — Safe Infant Sleep, written by James J. McKenna, Ph.D. is an INCREDIBLE book filled with everything moms should know about breastsleeping AND cosleeping.
Using lots of science-backed information while dispelling many common misconceptions, the Safe Infant Sleep book will open your eyes to a new world of what should be the standard of practice regarding infant sleep.
However, they don’t push the agenda on you, they simply provide research-based information to help you decide what method is BEST for you and your baby.
There you have it, common myths about breastsleeping put to rest. I hope this helps you feel more confident in your decision to cosleep or breastsleep with baby so long as you’re following the appropriate guidelines.
At the end of the day, doing whats BEST for baby and mama wins all (with safety as the top priority).
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