Cosleeping and Breastfeeding – A Family Choice

Cosleeping and Breastfeeding – A Family Choice
Whether to cosleep with your baby is a choice that every family must make. There are many documented benefits of cosleeping, especially for breastfeeding babies and mothers, as well as some safety issues to address (see my article, "Cosleeping and Breastfeeding – Safety and Benefits" in the related links at the bottom of this page).

But there as many different family situations as there are families, so to assume there is a "one-size-fits-all" answer to whether cosleeping is the "right" thing to do is absurd. Along with breastfeeding, cosleeping is one of the primary principles of Attachment Parenting (also known as "AP"). But does this mean that if you do not cosleep, you are not attached to your baby? Of course not! But in my opinion, the decision whether to cosleep should be made by each individual family precisely *based* on that attachment – knowing your baby and your family and knowing whether bed sharing is what you and your baby need.

Here's a couple of things to know and consider when deciding if co-sleeping may be right for you:

Cosleeping is not a bad habit – Cosleeping with your baby does not mean that she will never learn to sleep "through the night," or even that sleeping longer stretches will be delayed. Cosleeping with your baby, or older child, does not mean that you will *never* get him out of your bed. Babies need different things at different stages – especially with a newborn, but with an older child as well, you will best serve your child by giving them what they need NOW. Don't worry about how you'll deal with LATER – because later they will have different needs. You may never need to "wean" your child from cosleeping, because when the time is right for all of you, you and your child will know. However, trying to always second guess what you'll want in the future is a sure way to create clinginess and resistance from your baby and a power struggle with older children.

Cosleeping is not "all or nothing" – Deciding to cosleep doesn't mean that you are completely submitting to, or alternately, limiting, your child's sleep schedule. Cosleeping can be done part of the night, and can be used or not used for naps. For myself – I am a night-owl, but my daughters both have needed an early bedtime. So they both started out in their cribs and did the first feedings in their room while I am still awake (cosleeper/bassinet when younger) and moved to my bed the first time they woke up after I have gone to sleep. Sometimes if my baby, or I, have trouble re-settling in my bed after a feeding, Daddy will move her back to her room until the next feeding (and then he'll go get her for me…what a good man!).

Cosleeping requires a commitment to safety – If you smoke, do not cosleep. If you are obese, do not cosleep. If you are intoxicated, or have taken sleep medication or other mind-altering drugs, don't cosleep (or possibly breastfeed that night, for that matter!). If you sleep with older children or pets, be aware that both sleep more deeply than adults and can suffocate a baby unawares. Cats in particular are drawn to the warmth of a baby's breath and can curl up on their head. Do not cosleep on a waterbed or excessively soft surface. These are only a few of the considerations for safe cosleeping – but some of the most important. However, do not let the safety factor involved in cosleeping scare you away if it is right for your family. Numerous gadgets like cosleepers, snuggle nests and bedrails can help create a safe environment for all involved. Some families put mattresses on the floor to eliminate falls. If you or your baby want to cosleep, you may be able to make it work. (Again, see my article on "Cosleeping and Breastfeeding – Safety and Benefits" for a more in depth look and links to experts on cosleeping safety).

Cosleeping will not kill your marriage – Having a baby in your bed doesn't mean that your husband is no longer welcome there. It may mean that you need to be more "creative." Your bed, at night, is not the only place in the house to be intimate – in fact, you may find cosleeping spices up your marriage instead!

Cosleeping can be great for working moms – Cosleeping is a great way to fulfill your baby's physical need for attachment if mommy is not the primary caregiver during the day. Several of my friends who need or choose to work cosleep at night and tell me they don't feel like they "never see their baby" as some of their colleagues report. Cosleeping also provides the opportunity for increased night nursing (note that cosleeping does not cause increased night nursing…it just means you won't have to get out of bed for it!). Increased night nursing can help reduce baby's daytime breastmilk needs and keep milk supply well-stimulated to extend the amount of time working moms are able to be successful at exclusive breastfeeding through pumping.

Cosleeping can reduce sleep deprivation – One of the things that can be tough about exclusive breastfeeding is not being able to hand off even one of the night feedings to someone else. But cosleeping means that you don't have to get up and go in the other room, or after a couple months even sit up (or sometimes even wake up!) to feed your baby through the night. The best sleep I have gotten since having kids was from about 4-9 months of age with each of them – after they were competent enough breastfeeders to latch on basically on their own and before they got so big and fidgety that they needed their own space. See my article on "Night Nursing and Sleep Deprivation" (also linked at the bottom of this page) for more tips on how to deal with this exhausting issue.

Cosleeping is not for every family – Sometimes cosleeping is just not what a baby needs and/or what makes sense for a breastfeeding family. Sometimes I feel jealous of my breastfeeding friends who were able to snuggle in with their babies all night until a much older age than we did. But as I mentioned above – at about 9 months, both of my daughters became too fidgety and stimulated by nearby milk to sleep soundly, and so we didn't either. We usually manage at least one stretch together each night when everything comes together for us to sleep soundly together between feedings, but for the most part, we sleep better separate. However, sleeping apart does not mean that you can not remain attached to your baby at night. Cosleepers (also known as sidecar cribs) provide a great way to remain close to a newborn at night while maintaining a distinct space. A nearby bassinet or in-room crib is recommended for newborns by the American Academy of Pediatrics (they tend to shy away from recommending cosleeping because, in my opinion, of the liability involved in that recommendation).

Where ever you sleep, I urge all parents to stay responsive to your baby's night needs and attentive to quality of sleep for you all. Needs and patterns change frequently as your child grows, so try not to get too locked into what is "right" or "wrong," instead focusing on what contributes best to the health and sanity of all family members at a given time.

And make your choice based on what you and your baby need – not based on the opinions or agendas of your family, friends, coworkers, politicians, liability lawyers, crib manufacturers, AP proponents or anyone else. Cosleeping, like breastfeeding, is a temporary situation for a family (for some, weeks or months, and for some, years, but still temporary) that can yield incredible benefits.

While sometimes it may seem to be going on forever, especially if you are cosleeping more for your baby's sake than your own, soon enough your little one will no longer need you close at night. Do your best to get some sleep and enjoy these times – too soon they will pass.

Disclaimer: All material on the Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.

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You Should Also Read:
Cosleeping and Breastfeeding - Safety and Benefits
Night Nursing and Sleep Deprivation
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