How Bedsharing Influences Breastfeeding

We’ve all heard that mothers and babies have always had close physical contact throughout history, right? This includes babies kickstarting breastfeeding when they need to. But in many Western societies today, it’s common for moms and babies to sleep in separate rooms. This mismatch between historical patterns and current practices is what led researchers Lee T. Gettler and James J. McKenna to conduct a sleep study.

The Study

Gettler and McKenna brought together 52 moms and their babies, dividing them into two groups. In the first group, 12 pairs were “bedsharers” who routinely slept together, and their babies were about 12 weeks old. In the second group, 14 pairs were “solitary sleepers” who slept in separate rooms, with babies roughly 13 weeks old. The researchers closely observed their sleep patterns and breastfeeding habits during their first night in the lab.

Findings: Sleep Close, Feed More

The study found that bedsharing moms and babies had more feeding sessions in the night compared to solitary sleepers. Not only that, but the time between each feed was shorter for the bedsharing group. When the researchers looked at data from all three nights in the lab, the bedsharing pairs still breastfed more often and had slightly shorter times between feeds.

What Does It Mean?

This study shows that there’s a clear link between sleeping closely (like bedsharing) and frequent breastfeeding. Knowing this, it’s essential for anyone studying breastfeeding practices to take into account whether the mother and baby are bedsharing or sleeping separately. As child sleep consultants, we can use this information to guide families better when making decisions about where their baby should sleep and how to manage breastfeeding.

Gettler, L. T., & McKenna, J. J. (2010). Evolutionary perspectives on mother–infant sleep proximity and breastfeeding in a laboratory setting. Research Article. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 143(4), 510-519. First published: 10 December 2010.

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