Sleep is something all new mothers long for during the first few months of baby’s life. Dads sometimes can help out, but the majority of feeding responsibilities fall on mom. Does baby sleep with you or down the hall? This newsletter offers more information to help with your night-time feeding decision.
Mothers of young babies are often exhausted and sleep deprived, yet they may have gotten the message from medical professionals or family that they should not sleep with their baby due to the possibility that they will roll over and suffocate their baby. So what’s a mother to do? If she’s heard not to sleep with baby in bed, but can’t stay awake while breastfeeding, she may sleep in the recliner or on the couch with baby instead. These are very UNSAFE alternatives due to soft, pillowy cushions and the risk that baby will get squished between the cushions and could suffocate there.
If mom and baby are going to bed share, it needs to be in a safe situation. This is the one position that baby is NOT placed on a pillow while nursing. Baby should be on a firm, flat mattress- no water beds. Mom should also not cover her and baby with blankets or comforter—baby should be above mom’s covers. Babies can potentially burrow down into the covers, get overheated and increase the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Mom’s pillow should be up by her head and not close to baby’s face. If mom dozes off while breastfeeding, when she wakes up she can put baby back in his own bed which hopefully is right next to mom’s bed.
If dad is in bed with mom, it is better not to have baby in between them. Dads usually have to get up and go to work in the morning and go into a deeper sleep than a breastfeeding mom. It may be unlikely, but it is possible, that dad could roll over onto baby and not realize it. Have you ever fed baby every 2 to 3 hours all night and dad gets up in the morning saying, “Wow! Baby only got up to nurse once last night?” Dads just sleep through a lot more than breastfeeding moms do.
If baby is going to be in bed with parents, there can be no drugs or alcohol involved. Perhaps mom had a c-section and is still taking stronger pain pills. If she feels they sedate her and put her into a deeper sleep, she shouldn’t bed share with baby. Of if dad has a beer before going to bed, baby should not be in the same bed with him. Smoking is another huge issue which dramatically increases the incidence of SIDS (remember, breastfeeding lowers the incidence of SIDS.) Obesity is another factor that can contribute to an unsafe bed sharing situation.
One thing we Americans have to remember is that we are unique in that most families have a separate room for baby down the hall or at least have a crib or separate bed for their baby. Many cultures in the world do not have that luxury nor do they have a separate bed for baby much less their own room. All those babies do not suffocate or die of SIDS in those families!
No matter where a breastfeeding mom nurses her baby, at some point she will fall asleep. Her prolactin levels rise and make her drowsy. This was Mother Nature’s way of helping her go back to sleep after those night-time feedings. If mom is breastfeeding in a chair, her baby is on a pillow so if she dozes off, baby will not roll off of her lap. Where ever a mom breastfeeds, her baby needs to be safe in case mom gets sleepy. A safe environment in bed is better than spending the night on the couch or in a recliner.
Breastfeeding Mothers Get More Sleep
In a study of 33 mothers at 4 weeks postpartum, Quillin and Glenn (2004) found that mothers who were breastfeeding slept more than mothers who were bottle-feeding. Data were collected via questionnaire that recorded 5 days of mother and newborn sleep. When comparing whether bedsharing made a difference in total sleep, they found that bedsharing, breastfeeding mothers got the most sleep, and breastfeeding mothers who were not bedsharing got the least amount of sleep. Mothers who were bottle-feeding got the same amount of sleep whether their babies were with them or in another room.
Not only do breastfeeding mothers get more sleep, but the sleep they get is of better quality. This study compared 12 exclusively breastfeeding women, 12 age-matched control women, and 7 women who were exclusively bottle-feeding (Blyton et al., 2002). They found that total sleep time and REM sleep time were similar in the three groups of women. The marked difference between the groups was in the amount of slow-wave sleep (SWS). The breastfeeding mothers got an average of 182 minutes of SWS. Women in the control group had an average of 86 minutes. And the exclusively bottle-feeding women had an average of 63 minutes. Among the breastfeeding women, there was a compensatory reduction in light, non-REM sleep. Slow-wave sleep is an important marker of sleep quality, and those with a lower percentage of slow-wave sleep report more daytime fatigue.
The most recent study was published in the journal Sleep, a major sleep-medicine journal not necessarily known for their support of breastfeeding. This was a study of 2,830 women at 7 weeks postpartum (Dorheim et al., 2009). They found that disrupted sleep was a major risk factor for postpartum depression. But here is where it really gets interesting. When considering what disrupted sleep, they found that the following factors were related to disturbed sleep: depression, previous sleep problems, being a first-time mother, a younger or male infant, and not exclusively breastfeeding. In other words, mothers who were not exclusively breastfeeding had more disrupted sleep and a higher risk of depression.
The results of these previous studies are remarkably consistent. Breastfeeding mothers are less tired and get more sleep than their formula- or mixed-feeding counterparts. And this lowers their risk for depression.
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Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to call or email me anytime with your concerns. I am here to assist you in any way I can.