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Your Breastfed Baby Must Never Sleep in Your Bed: Fact or Fiction?

Night sky with moon and trees.

For decades, people have said that mothers should not bring their babies into bed with them at night — no matter what, no matter why.This is a big, bold MYTH.

That’s right. When it’s time for your breastfed baby’s nighttime feeding, you won’t need to stumble out of bed to nurse somewhere else. There are at least 3 solid reasons why you can rest easy that the prohibition on bringing baby into bed is a myth.

The AAP says so

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated bedsharing poses too great a risk of suffocation. However, in its latest statement on infant sleep and SIDS risk, the national pediatric organization acknowledges that breastfeeding mothers can bring their babies into bed for feedings. That’s because the risk of bringing a baby into bed for nighttime feeding is lower than the risk of suffocation when a baby is fed on a sofa or armchair.

This isn’t an endorsement of bedsharing all night long, and it’s not for babies who are formula-fed. It also isn’t for babies of mothers who have used a substance that will make them sleep deeply. Rather, the AAP statement is clear that this is about nighttime feedings for breastfed infants. Also, it recommends that parents return the baby to their own sleep space after the feeding, or if the mother falls asleep during the feeding, when she awakens.  

They also urge keeping the baby’s crib in the parents’ bedroom for a year (or, at the very least, 6 months) to reduce the infant’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

If you have heard professionals forbid any bedsharing, or use “bedscaring” language, they are out of date, and need to be clearer on what the AAP does and does not say.

Co-bedding is the norm in other cultures

Cecelia Tomori, PhD, author of Nighttime Breastfeeding: An American Cultural Dilemma) helps us to understand nighttime parenting from an anthropological standpoint. In an interview, Dr. Tomori says that having the baby in the parents’ bed is considered normal in most cultures around the world. In fact, it’s very likely that bedsharing has been happening for millennia.

Is it possible that, eventually, Americans will find enough evidence to show that sleeping in the parent’s bed is safe in our culture? Certainly, the AAP has confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: SIDS is more likely to occur when babies sleep in a room away from their parents.

Sleep experts support bedsharing

Professor James McKenna, PhD, of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, has coined the term “breastsleeping” to explain how the sleeping experience is different for breastfeeding mother-baby pairs than for formula-feeding mothers and babies. His years of research on “breastsleeping” pairs have shown that, in the absence of other risk factors, immediate and sustained contact supports optimal infant breastfeeding, neonatal attachment, and brain growth. His book, “Sleeping With Your Baby” is a must-read for any parent or professionals.

And yet … bedsharing is not for everyone

Experts agree that if you have any risk factors, you should not bedshare with your baby. Do not bedshare if you or your partner is intoxicated or has been using drugs or medication, or if you are so overtired that you would be difficult to awaken.

Also, make sure that your bed meets “safe sleep” recommendations — a firm mattress (not a waterbed), free of extra bedding and pillows, away from a wall or other furniture. For more info about ensuring your baby’s sleep space is safe, see this resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Whether it’s nighttime feeding, or anything else, be sure your parenting decisions are based on updated facts and reason, not just myths.

Are you bedsharing with your baby? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below!

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  1. Sunita Katyayan

    In India where this is the norm to sleep a baby for the longest time possible I have always wondered why people ever got into this discussion at all in your baby in this in your sleep all while awake is the most natural thing that a mother will do in fact it is the most natural thing to do with anyone you love. It releases pheromones oxytocin the works you have to give nature a chance. I have often felt that it is part of the attitude of Identity and their own spacewhere the husband and wife partners do not want any interference in night time activity!!!!!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Oh, Sunita, you raise such good points! And, I’m guessing that most of the people who read this blog are Americans, it’s wonderful to hear a perspective from someone outside of our borders. Thank you, thank you, for your comments!

  2. Sally Danto

    I did my thesis on this topic… I agree that risks can be mitigated and as long as exposures to dangers are minimized, the chance of SIDS is minimal. I appreciate you saying that bed sharing isn’t for everyone. I think the policies that are put out are there to target the infant at highest risk. I like to discuss ways to make bed sharing the safest possible environment with my patients who prefer a bedsharing arrangement.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Sally, thank you! I am humbled and grateful for a reply from someone who did a thesis on this topic! To me, there’s no sense in just preaching “don’t do it.” It is my understanding (correct me if I’m wrong!) that parents do bedsharing, regardless of what the “policies” say, so it makes more sense to describe, as you say, “the safest possible environment” for those who prefer to bedsore. Thank you, thank you for your comment!

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