Co-Sleeping Not Only Makes Breastfeeding Possible but Enjoyable
My two girls are school-aged now, just starting the 1st and 3rd grade, but the days of breastfeeding and trying to get a good night of sleep are still fresh memories. The way I handled nighttime nursing was drastically different for my girls, and I do my best not to feel guilty about it. After all, we all do the best we can with the information provided to us at the time.
With my first daughter, Lilian, my husband was adamant that she should sleep in her own room, which was located down a straight hall at the other end of the house. We had bad luck with every baby monitor we purchased, and so I slept with both doors open and woke at every creak, cough, or whisper in the night. When it was time to nurse, I groggily struggled my way to her bedroom, pulled her from her crib, and attempted to nurse a child who’d began to cry because she was so hungry. If you’ve never tried, nursing a baby who is already upset can be a difficult challenge, especially when you are half asleep. By the time she was 9 months old, I’d had enough. I moved Lilian into a pack and play in our bedroom and instantly our entire breastfeeding relationship changed for the better.
So, when I gave birth to my second daughter, Iris, I was already prepared to room-share. I set a co-sleeping pack and play next to the bed and woke when she did. Instead of waking because she was crying, I woke when she began to wiggle, suck her hand, and root against her mattress. She wasn’t upset, only simply beginning to feel those subtle pangs of hunger. I would not have to sit up, but could pull her from her co-sleeper and bring her to the breast as I laid on my side. Nursing came easy because she was never allowed to become upset, I was able to stay half asleep as she nursed and simply gently lean over and lay her back in her co-sleeper once she’d fallen asleep and unlatched from my breast. I was careful to keep my room warm enough so that I didn’t use heavy comforters and kept Iris and Lilian on there sides or backs in the crook of my elbow, should I fall asleep before putting them back into their “Arms Reach Co-Sleeper.”
Co-sleeping for me was a wonderful experience that saved and preserved my breastfeeding relationship for the many years I spent nursing.
What is Co-Sleeping?
Co-sleeping has been practiced all over the world since the dawn of man and continues to be a normal part of parenting today. Co-sleeping is the practice of sleeping in close proximity to your infant, also known as room sharing. Co-sleeping improves breastfeeding relationships and a healthy maternal-infant attachment by increasing the mother’s ability to respond quickly to her infant’s needs.
Does Co-Sleeping Have Evidence Based Benefits?
Yes! Co-sleeping and room-sharing absolutely has benefits for both mother and baby. While babies who co-sleep breastfeed more often, both parents and infants get more sleep when room sharing. Because these infants nurse more frequently, co-sleeping helps maintain a mother’s milk supply, a benefit that, while great for all moms, is especially wonderful for working mothers. Possibly most dramatically positive is that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, room-sharing (bed-sharing is no way recommended by the AAP) may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 50%. Last but not least, there is possibly no better feeling in the world than waking up next to your baby, smiling, cooing, and absorbedly watching the world around them.
How to implement Co-sleeping/Room sharing (no matter how old your baby is)
No matter how old your baby is, it’s never too early or too late to start co-sleeping with your baby. You’ll remember that in my experience, I co-slept with my second baby from the very beginning, when she was an 8-pound newborn, and began co-sleeping with my first daughter at 9 months. Are you not sure how to set up your bedroom for co-sleeping? You may be surprised how easy it is to implement and create a cute nursery like space that blends with your bedroom, if you’re as into interior design as I am.
First, you’ll need to evaluate the layout of your bedroom. Is there a space for a pack and play or an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper? You may put your pack and play just about anywhere in your room, but if you’ve got the space for it, it’s best to have it right against your side of the bed. A co-sleeper will contact directly to your mattress so that you won’t need to sit up and pick your baby up from their bed, but rather reach over and slide them to you when it is time to nurse. Keep things cute and entertaining for your baby by creating or finding a mobile for above their bed that blends in with your bedroom’s aesthetic. I like hanging twinkle lights from the ceiling, so that if baby wakes before I do, they’ll have something to entertain them for a bit so that you can get a few more minutes of sleep.
Sleeping apart from your baby has risks, including an increase risk of SIDS and more infant stress from nighttime separation, an occurrence human offspring has not adapted to experience. Still, it is important to practice responsible co-sleeping as well. Ways to practice safe co-sleeping include:
- Keep pillows, and heavy or fluffy blankets away from your infant.
- Avoid alcohol or medications that may make you drowsy before bed.
- Use a firm mattress and never allow your infant to sleep on a sofa, futon, or recliner.
- Never smoke around your infant. Infants of parents who smoke cigarettes put their infants at a greater risk for SIDS. Sears reports that when both parents smoke cigarettes, the infant is 3.5 times more likely to die for SIDS. If the mother smokes, the infant is 2 times as likely to suffer from SIDS. This same study found that even if the mother does not smoke, but the father does, the infant is still at an increased risk.
Overall, evidence supports co-sleeping/room-sharing as the healthiest option for a healthy, happy baby and a successful, nurturing breastfeeding relationship. Babies who co-sleep are calmer at night, meaning mom and dad get more sleep. That’s a benefit which alone makes co-sleeping and breastfeeding an enjoyable experience.