Why is Breastsleeping So Bad?

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Day or night, should you lie down to nurse your infant? It's all about safety.

“I think he’s done,” my husband says, gently waking me. I was having a hard time breastfeeding. Exhausted, I stretched out on my bed in a horizontal position. I was so comfortable, and he willingly nursed … and I fell asleep. It just happened.  I didn’t plan to “breastsleep,” it just happened.  Now, with the term in the mainstream, it’s time for all moms to know more.

BREASTSLEEPING DEFINED

Resting together while your baby nurses in a safe environment is breastsleeping. One or both of you can nod off at any time. Many moms describe breastsleeping as a positive, relaxing experience. 

“It allows mothers to breastfeed easily with less disruption of sleep,” says Deanna Bell, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. Bell is also president of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Mothers all over the world practice breastsleeping, especially in areas where breastfeeding rates are very high,” says Kimberly Hampton, a certified lactation consultant, with Middle Tennessee Lactation.

A word of caution, though, from Bell: “Available research on infant mortality says that mothers should not breastsleep with their infants at all.”

RISKS INVOLVED

You’ll breastfeed your baby at times when you’re overworked and tired, but be cautious on how you go about it. Be aware of risks associated with co-sleeping beforehand. Bell says breastsleeping is NOT a safe alternative to getting up during the night to nurse your child.

“Drowsy parents co-sleeping with infants is a dangerous combination,” says Bell. “However, sharing a bedroom with separate sleeping space has been shown to decrease the incidence of SIDS,” she adds. The dangers of breastsleeping and co-sleeping are the same. Mothers can cut off Baby’s air supply with blankets or even accidentally roll on top of the baby. Breastsleeping and co-sleeping are associated with an increased risk of SIDS, Bell says.

“More than half of all sleep-related deaths in Tennessee in 2016 occurred in co-sleeping arrangements,” she warns.

In fact, more than 3,500 infants in the U.S. die in co-sleeping arrangements each year, Bell says, which is also the cause of about 13 percent of deaths of infants younger than 1 from all causes.

“Often, mothers who avoid sleeping near their babies inevitably end up asleep with them on unsafe surfaces such as chairs or couches,” says Hampton. Hampton says all new mothers should be taught safe sleep practices and how to nurse while lying down.

The AAP says mothers should move Baby to a separate sleeping space after feeding — preferably a crib or bassinet in your bedroom. And, in the middle of the night, if you feel drowsy and think you may fall asleep while feeding Baby, feed him on your bed, rather than that big comfy chair or cushy sofa.

Kiera Ashford is associate editor of Nashville Parent and mother of three.

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