Bed-Sharing and the Breastfed Baby

A decision that affects the ease of breastfeeding and therefore, encourages or discourages the likelihood of optimal breastfeeding, is determining a location for the baby to sleep.  Many moms, especially those who are employed, find that bed-sharing (sleeping in the same bed) with their infant, helps the breastfeeding relationship in several ways.  When mothers are employed and must be separated from their infants during the daytime, their infants may chose to take much of their nourishment at night and feed less when mother is away.  This is sometimes referred to as, “reverse cycle nursing,” a phrase coined by Gale Pryor, author of Working Mother, Nursing Mother.  If the infant is in bed with mother, frequent feeding may not interrupt their sleep at all.  Even without reverse cycling, most infants will need to feed at night and night feedings are much easier when bed-sharing.

Bed-sharing is also a way for the employed mom and her infant to re-connect and spend time together that helps to make up for their separation during the day.  Bed-sharing tends to help everyone sleep better and the whole family benefits from adequate sleep.  Safe bed-sharing has even been associated with a reduction in SIDS. McKenna and McDade (2005)

A large study in the U.S. found that up to 22% of 1-month-old infants were bed sharing and that breastfeeding mothers were three times more likely to bed share than mothers who did not breastfeed.  Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (2008) Breastfeeding and bed-sharing are strongly associated.  It is much easier for a mom to breastfeed if her baby is in bed with her.  In support of practices that encourage breastfeeding and in reference to bed-sharing, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine states that, “Because breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants, any recommendations for infant care that impede its initiation or duration need to be carefully weighed against the many known benefits to infants, their mothers, and society.” ABM further provides guidelines for safe bed-sharing.

Many moms are concerned about the safety bed-sharing because of the U.S. safe-sleep campaigns that advise against babies sleeping in adult beds.  Research by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA, shows that, in order to avoid falling asleep with their babies in bed, many moms are falling asleep with their babies on unsafe surfaces such as couches, recliners and chairs.  She proposes that rather than proscribing bed-sharing, safe sleep campaigns should include information on how to make bed-sharing safer.

© Laura Spitzfaden 2010 Edited 2012

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