Ask The Expert - Barbara Demske
SLEEP! It’s one of the hardest adjustments into motherhood. So many moms obsess over the amount of or lack of sleep they are getting... for good reason. Sleep deprivation is SO hard. There are so many “rules”, AND confusing advice. Figuring out a sleeping arrangement that works can take time and patience. Just like getting the hang of breastfeeding! Would it surprise you to know that proximity of sleep for mom and baby correlates to longevity of breastfeeding duration? It’s true! Babies who sleep closer in proximity to their mother have a better chance of breastfeeding for a longer duration of time. According to research cited in the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol # 6 on Bedsharing and Breastfeeding, “Overall, the research conducted to date on bedsharing and breastfeeding indicates that nighttime proximity facilitates breastfeeding duration and exclusivity”. This is due to a few factors but one being ease of breastfeeding when closer together.
A huge trend that I as a pediatric RN of 14 years, and IBCLC see is this cultural idea that if your baby doesn’t sleep well, or for long periods of time, there is something wrong with your baby. You aren’t a good mother or better yet, if your baby sleeps well, you are winning at motherhood. This damaging message is causing so many mothers to look for quick fixes for sleep, pay loads of money on sleep gadgets and sleep training without understanding the evolutionary and biological aspect of infant sleep. Infants by design are supposed to wake often. For thousands of years mothers slept with and near their babies because it is biologically imperative to do so. Babies wake to feed because they need to in order to secure their food source. Breast milk is metabolized quickly, the stomachs of babies are quite small, as well as the relatively low caloric value of breastmilk which means they need to eat often. Breast milk production works in perfect sync with babies demands. Failure to feed frequently or adequately remove breastmilk can be absolutely devastating to a mother’s breast milk supply, devastating to longevity of breastfeeding which may result in a mother not meeting their breastfeeding goals.
Dr. James McKenna has done extensive research on bedsharing, breastfeeding, and sleep proximity that is recognized by major organizations all over the world. While it is not my job to tell a parent that bedsharing is right or wrong, I do believe strongly that parents should have the resources available to make informed decisions. Babies should sleep in close proximity to their mother and when a mother is considering where their new baby should sleep, there are important things to consider and those decisions could impact their potential breastfeeding relationship. I’m in the business of helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goal, and to leave out the component of sleep would be a disservice to mothers everywhere. Interestingly enough the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA ) now recommends that baby’s share the same sleep space (room) for 6 months, and optimally a year. This is to help prevent SIDS, however another great side effect is that it could improve breastfeeding duration.
Having your baby in arm’s reach has many benefits and contributes overall to mother’s meeting their breastfeeding goals. When a new mom has questions about sleep, I think feeding choices and goals should absolutely be a part of the conversation as well as education regarding what is expected and normal for infants sleep. Healthcare providers should be having these conversations, but many are not. Lack of time, and patient load may prevent this from happening. I always suggest mothers reach out to an IBCLC if having difficulty in breastfeeding and make sleep a part of that conversation. A few words of encouragement along with accurate information regarding sleep can build long term confidence in mothers and help mom’s reach their breastfeeding goals.
Barbara Demske is a registered nurse, IBCLC, and mother to four young children. She is founder of the @firstlatch Instagram community where support and education on breastfeeding brings mothers together. Barbara hosts and produces The First Latch Podcast and discusses topics from pregnancy, breastfeeding and motherhood.
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