The link between bed sharing and breastfeeding
While one study says co-sleeping encourages breastfeeding, other studies suggest that co-sleeping increases the risk of SIDS. Mel Hearse wades into the research to figure out which is the more important data.
breastfeeding and bed sharing

Room-sharing, co-sleeping and breastfeeding duration.

Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their child for the first two years of life (and beyond if desired), yet this seems to be more of a rarity than commonplace. Could this lack of extended breastfeeding be related to a tendency away from co-sleeping?

International Family Medicine Clinic at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville reveals the longer a mother bed-shares, the longer she is likely to breastfeed. But lead researcher Dr Fern Hauck says the hazards of bed sharing are just too great, so despite wanting to boost breastfeeding duration, the researchers do not recommended co-sleeping – they feel the risks of co-sleeping outweigh the benefits to breastfeeding rates.

Into the research I wade a little further... I came across a 2004 European study that reported about 36 percent of SIDS cases in their study were attributable to the baby sleeping alone and 16 percent attributable to co-sleeping. This shows that while co-sleeping may not be the best solution, room sharing should be encouraged. To the uninitiated, room sharing refers to sharing a sleeping space, but not a bed.

Translating this into breastfeeding success

As well as room sharing (a smoke free room is recommended), there are other ways to increase the likelihood of breastfeeding:

  • Rest when your baby does: Nearly every mum you speak to will probably be able to admit (maybe not out loud) to nodding off during a feed, and most likely because they're not getting enough sleep at any other time!
  • Get help when you need it: If you are having breastfeeding issues (cracked or sore nipples, or perhaps you have a little biter) get help and address the problems as they can often be easily fixed rather than meaning the end of breastfeeding.
  • Take care of your breasts: If you become engorged, cold compresses will help reduce swelling, and massaging and applying warm towels will help the milk flow. Let nipples air dry after a feed where possible to avoid cracking.
  • Let people do things for you: When friends and family offer to help, they generally mean it so do take them up on it. The less you need to worry about around the house, the more time you have to rest and establish breastfeeding.
  • Eat well: Adequate nutrition (this includes plenty of water) is key to having a healthy milk supply and staying well yourself.

If you want to co-sleep

It seems that co-sleeping rates are on the rise, so there is obviously some value in sharing the safety recommendations for those that decide they will – even if it’s the accidental fall asleep during a feed.

Things that increase the risks of co-sleeping with babies include:

  • Smoking: Smokers should never co-sleep with their child (including those that smoked during their pregnancy.)
  • Alcohol, drugs or extreme fatigue: If you are under the effects of alcohol or other drugs (illegal or sleep inducing), or extremely fatigued, your bubs is at a higher risk of SIDS or being smothered.
  • Sharing a sleeping surface with a sibling(s) or a pet(s): Keep bed occupants to a minimum.
  • Obesity: Parents who are obese may not be able to feel exactly where or how close their baby is and should not co-sleep with their baby.
  • Formula-fed babies: Formula-fed babies should room-share with their parents rather than co-sleep.
  • Sofa-sharing: Using a sofa, couch, beanbag or armchair as a sleeping place for a baby increases the risk of a fatal sleeping accident.
  • Overheating or head covering
  • Baby alone on an adult bed
  • Infant wrapping and swaddling: Do not wrap baby if sharing a sleep surface as this restricts arm and leg movement.

Ironically, breastfeeding is a protective factor for SIDS.

Do you co-sleep or room-share with your baby or toddler?

This article has been prepared with information supplied by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

This article was written by Melanie Hearse and adapted for Kidpsot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
Connect with Kidspot:


what's new on kidspot