Anyone who has ever breastfed knows that relaxed, sleepy feeling that happens while nursing a baby. Mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding nurse at night. Eventually mother and baby drift off to sleep. But what do we know about sleeping and nursing babies?
Well, we know a lot more than we used to know. It’s your baby, and ultimately your decision. But whatever you choose to do, first think through sleeping and nursing at night.
Sleeping on his back
In 1994, public health authorities launched their “Back to Sleep” campaign (now Safe to Sleep), urging parents to put babies on their backs. The best explanation I’ve ever heard for why this reduces infant death came from Dr. Stacy Scott. Dr. Scott was my most recent podcast guest Born to Be Breastfed.
Not all cribs are created equally
It’s not just a matter of putting the baby on his back in the crib. The crib should be a safety-approved crib. Cribs that have been handed down from one generation to the next may pose a risk. Dr. Scott’s suggestion? If a soda can (e.g., CocaCola) will go through one of the slats, the crib isn’t safe. And, drop-sided cribs are no longer considered safe, due to a risk of entrapment.
Formula-fed infants are at higher risk for SIDS
We’ve known this for least two decades. And it makes total sense. Formula is “heavier” and digested more slowly. Babies go into a deeper sleep and wake less frequently. Because of those two factors, the formula-fed infant is at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Giving food to help a 3-month old sleep? Let’s think about this
You may have seen a new study claiming that feeding infants solid foods as early as 3 months could improve their sleep. First, the conclusions of that study are highly debatable. Evolutionary Parenting author Tracy Cassels PhD (who was my guest on an earlier podcast) is among many who aren’t convinced that the conclusions have any merit.
But let’s just say that having the solids does improve a 3-month old’s sleep. Is that really what we want? The highest risk for SIDS occurs between 2 and 4 months. So why would anyone want their 3-month old baby to sleep better?
There’s co-sleeping, and co-sleeping
People often use the term co-sleeping rather casually. Technically, co-sleeping means that the baby is in your room—either in your bed or in his own crib.
But there are some clear distinctions between co-bedding (sharing a bed) and rooming-in (being in the same room, but with a baby in the crib). Dr. Scott confirmed what I presumed was true: The risk for SIDS increases when anyone, other than the mother, shares the bed with the baby (family bed).
Parents don’t always heed public health recommendations
Sometimes, it’s about preferences. You’ve heard it. You’ve probably lived it! Parents observe that their baby sleeps better on her tummy. (Possibly true. Some babies seem to insist on being on their bellies.)
Another problem, however, is that parents sometimes can’t afford a crib. Or, there are so many children or people sleeping on the floor of their home that there isn’t room for a crib. And by the way, women’s shelters often don’t have cribs. You can see the problem here.
What the AAP says about sleeping and nursing at night
In their 2016 statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics articulates many safe sleep practices. It’s not just about the position the baby is in for sleep; it’s about the sleep environment. So what about the nursing mother? Is it okay to put the baby in her bed?
The AAP says: “After feeding, the AAP encourages parents to move the baby to his or her separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents’ bedroom.” They also point out that sleeping in the same room with the parents decreases babies’ risk for SIDS. Read more of what I’ve said about this here.
Devices marketed to “prevent” SIDS don’t.
Dr. Scott said this quite clearly when I interviewed her, and the AAP says that, too. So, save your money.
Consider information on the topic
In addition to the AAP, Dr. Scott gave her top picks for resources related to safe sleep:
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Human Development
- First Candle/SIDS Alliance
- Global Infant Safe Sleep Center
Meanwhile, I want to give a few more. A previous podcast guest, author Diana West, IBCLC, emphasized the Safe Sleep Seven. And, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of that page to get the Safe Sleep Seven song. The seven recommendations are cleverly woven into a poem that you can sing to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Studies show that many parents don’t abide by the public health recommendations. Nursing mothers aren’t keen on getting out of bed to put their babies into a crib after he has finished nursing. No one wants to discourage nighttime breastfeeding. But no one wants a baby to die, either.
What are your thoughts on sleeping and nursing babies?