The following information from La Leche League International is intended to provide background on the debate about bedsharing in conjunction with La Leche League’s newly released book, Sweet Sleep. For more information, please contact your local La Leche League Leader or purchase the book from the LLLI website.
In the “old days,” mothers and babies just naturally breastfed and slept together. Mothers were instinctively protective of their babies and slept next to them, checking on them and nursing them through the night. A mother knew that it was a safe place for her baby to be: she instinctively kept the baby near her breast and the baby instinctively stayed there. The mother curled around the baby, protecting him from being rolled on by her or anyone else, and this also kept him from moving up or down in the bed. Babies slept better and cried less through the night because they were safely next to their mothers. Both mother and baby got more sleep, breastfed more easily, and were warmer when it was cold. All of these factors combined for a low-risk bedsharing environment.
Times have changed. More mothers smoke and use formula, which increases the risk of SIDS. Beds can be softer and bedding fluffier, and babies may sleep with non-breastfeeding or intoxicated adults, which increases the risk of suffocation.
The problem is that public health agencies have tried to prevent baby deaths by warning ALL mothers never to bedshare. They have lumped low-risk non-smoking, sober, breastfeeding mothers with high-risk smoking, intoxicated, formula-feeding mothers. They haven’t taken into account the health of the baby, how heavily he’s dressed, or the type of bed and bedding. And the research on which they based their recommendations is often scientifically flawed.
Sweet Sleep is helping to set the record straight, pointing out that the latest research shows that breastfeeding mothers and babies who meet seven very clear criteria, which we call the Safe Sleep Seven, are low-risk and can bedshare with confidence. And by bedsharing with their babies, mothers will be able to breastfeed more easily and longer, and they will probably have much easier nights.