Study Finds Co-Sleeping May Help Women Achieve Breastfeeding Goals

A recent study has shown mothers who share a bed with their infants are more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals..

Are you planning to co-sleep with your baby? If so, here’s some great news: A recent study has shown mothers who share a bed with their infants are more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals.

The study looked at results from 870 new mothers in the United Kingdom. Before baby’s arrival, the mothers answered questions about their intent to breastfeed. In the 26 weeks after the birth, researchers contacted those same mothers by phone to ask about whether they had breastfed or shared a bed that week.

The results? 44% of mothers “rarely” or “never” shared a bed, 28% shared one “intermittently,” and 28% admitted to co-sleeping “often.”

Those who rarely co-slept breastfed for an average of slightly over three months, while those who intermittently shared a bed breastfed an average of 5.5 months. The majority of the women who regularly co-slept with their babies were still breastfeeding beyond six months.

70% of the women who decided they would co-sleep prior to their baby’s birth also said they viewed breastfeeding as “important.” Only 56% of those in the other two categories said the same.

Helen Ball, the study’s lead author and director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University, recently told Reuters that “women who are the most motivated and have the strongest intent to breastfeed are the most likely to adopt bed-sharing as a strategy for attaining their breastfeeding goals.”

The findings of this study likely surprise no one who has ever nursed a child while also co-sleeping, but it’s good to see studies supporting what many mothers have known for years: bed-sharing and breastfeeding go together beautifully.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of not having to roll out of bed in the middle of the night was a sizeable factor in my decision to co-sleep. Some might call it lazy, but I call it ingenious. My babies and I slept much better in the same bed. They could easily nurse on demand, and I was able to build up and maintain a healthy milk supply.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, then combine breastfeeding with other foods for the first two years.

This study is of particular importance in the U.K., as its breastfeeding rates are the lowest in the world. Only 34% of women are still breastfeeding at six months, and only 0.5% are still nursing after one year. Rates in the U.S. are on the rise, but still nowhere near where the WHO and countless medical professionals would like to see them. Only half of women are still breastfeeding six months after giving birth.

In other words, perhaps co-sleeping might be something pregnant women committed to the idea of breastfeeding want to seriously consider.

However, the study’s authors encourage parents to balance the benefits of co-sleeping with any potential risks. They give the usual warnings that bed-sharing can be hazardous if proper precautions are not taken. Amongst other things, Ball states that drug and alcohol consumption, smoking during pregnancy or after the birth, premature or low birth weight babies, parents who are taking sedatives, or sleeping together on furniture other than a bed can increase co-sleeping risks.

If done properly, co-sleeping can do wonders in helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. And perhaps, just as importantly, it can help us get a better night’s sleep at a time when we need it most.

Image credit: “Mother & newborn sleeping” by David J Laporte via Flickr.com


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