I’ve written about newborn sleep guidelines and sleep deprivation before, but I have just come across the term “breastsleeping,” and it’s everything you think it is. According to Scary Mommy, the phrase was “coined by a sleep expert named James McKenna, PhD, who is the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.” Most breastfeeding mothers out there have at one time or another discovered the side lying position, where you and your baby each lie on your sides, facing each other, while the baby nurses and you both get a little (much-needed) shuteye. After weeks of waking up every hour or so to nurse, I was starting to lose my mind from sleep deprivation, so this wonderful breastfeeding position saved me by allowing me to sleep while my newborn ate to his heart’s content. Who knew there was a special name for it?
According to the article:
McKenna is an anthropologist and world-renowned expert on infant sleep. He definitely leans on the “crunchy” side of things, publishing many articles and studies on the benefits and safety of co-sleeping. One of his latest articles, published in the peer-reviewed pediatric journal, Acta Paediatrica, and co-written with Lee Gettler, is called, “There Is No Such Thing as Infant Sleep, There Is No Such Thing as Breastfeeding, There Is Only Breastsleeping.” That article is where the phrase “breastsleeping” originated.
Breastsleeping is basically exactly what it sounds like. It’s breastfeeding your baby while you both sleep (well, hopefully both of you!). McKenna believes that sharing a bed with your breastfeeding baby is natural, normal, and healthy. He says that breastfeeding moms are physiologically attuned to their babies, and that a breastfeeding mother is likely to be in a lighter sleep for much of the night so that she is apt to rouse if her baby is in danger.
Additionally, the more mothers nurse, the more milk they produce (it’s supply and demand in its purest state). So having your baby so close to your milk-filled breasts all night makes them want to eat more. (Yes, they can smell the milk. Those little babies are like bloodhounds!) In other words, breastsleeping helps to keep a mom’s milk supply up.
Now, you might be thinking: “Well, that’s all fine and good, but I need my sleep, so why would I choose a sleeping arrangement that makes it more likely for me to turn into all-night open milk bar?”
Well, McKenna argues that breastsleeping actually ensures more sleep for moms because even though your baby might wake more frequently, your baby will be easier to settle back to sleep—and of course, you won’t have to get out of bed to tend to your baby.
And this was the case for me and my little guy. All of that getting up and sitting up and reading Facebook for hours on end in order to stay awake until the baby was done nursing (only to do it all over again an hour or two later) was crazy-making. Breastsleeping made me enjoy the night a little bit more. Plus, as breastfeeding moms, don’t we always feel a little like all-you-can-eat milk bars? So why not do it in the middle of the night as well?
As for the safety of bed-sharing? Well, there’s this:
McKenna points to research showing that most breastfeeding moms take their babies into bed at some point — whether it’s all night or at some point in the middle of the night or early morning. He believes that health professionals should teach families how to make bed-sharing safer instead of issuing a categorical “no” to it. Additionally, he says that studies have found that bed-sharing is not a significant risk if done safely, and that after 3 months, bed-sharing is actually protective.
So breastfeeding moms, if you’re at your wit’s end with sleep deprivation (or want some more snuggles with your little ones), then breastsleeping might be a viable (and lifesaving) option for you!