Do You Co-Sleep?

All About Breastfeeding – Helen Ball Talks Co-sleeping and Room Sharing

Why this podcast?
This is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to or already breastfeeding.
The host, Lori Isenstadt, is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and after having a tough birth and breastfeeding experience with her first child, she certified as both a Childbirth Educator and a Birth Doula.

With around ten thousand consultations with mothers and babies, Lori definitely knows a thing or two about breastfeeding.

The podcast is designed to provide –

”Breastfeeding with confidence / inspiring stories / expert advice”

I find it a really nice balance of solid advice and personal stories from breastfeeding mums.

Why this episode?
I recently read a wonderful book for my Postpartum Doula course, titled ‘Sweet Sleep: Nighttime & Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family‘. It is based around the Safe Sleep Seven guidelines for safe bed sharing, one of which is that you must be breastfeeding.

It’s such a warm, practical and non-judgemental book about the huge benefits of bed sharing. I learnt so much from it that when I found this episode on co-sleeping, I knew I had to feature it.

Who should listen to this episode?
Anyone who is planning to breastfeed and wants to learn more about the benefits of bed or room sharing with their baby and how to make it safe.

The episode
Helen Ball is a Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University in the UK and Chair of the Scientific Committee for The Lullaby Trust – which raises awareness of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Helen has spent years observing babies sleeping, with one or both parents, in her specially built sleep lab and I was super curious to hear what she had to say!

Do people bed share?
I found it really interesting that most of the parents Helen interviewed answered a firm ‘no’ when asked if they bed shared with their baby.

However, when asked if they sometimes fell asleep with their baby in their bed or if their baby sometimes started out in their cot but then came into the parent’s bed later, 50% of the parents answered a very definite ‘oh yes!’.

As Helen points out if bed sharing is a hidden behaviour, that has serious implications for safety.

But, is bed sharing safe?
Helen begins by pointing out how capable babies are at ensuring they do not find themselves in danger. Helen observed that if, for instance, the covers end up over the baby’s face they are removed about half the time by the parents but the other half of the time it’s the babies themselves who remove them.

Not just that, but babies can move their parents.

Huh??!

Yep! If one parent gets too close babies are pretty good at letting them know.

Helen cites one instance in which a dad got too close to his baby one night and the baby simply stuck his arms and legs into the middle of the dad’s back, causing him to jump out of the way pretty fast.

The need for babies to have the possibility to remove covers and push away parents who get too close explains why it is so important that a baby who bedshares is left unswaddled so that their arms and legs are free.

To ensure that bed sharing is as safe as possible, the La Leche League created the Safe Sleep Seven guidelines

In order to bed share:

You need to be:
1. A non-smoker
2. Sober (no drugs, alcohol or medications that could make you drowsy)
3. Breastfeeding

Your baby needs to be:
4. Healthy (not premature or ill)
5. On his back when not breastfeeding
6. Unswaddled and lightly dressed

You both need to be:
7. On a safe surface (not a sofa or armchair)

Why is it important to be breastfeeding?
A breastfeeding mum will almost always sleep with their baby at breast level (so not up near pillows that could pose a suffocation risk) and will instinctively adopt the ‘cuddle curl’ position – on their side with the lower arm curled under or above their head and their knees drawn up. This position makes it almost impossible for a mum to roll over onto their baby and as long as the mother doesn’t pull the covers up past hip level (baby’s chest height) this will help keep baby safe.

So, what did Helen find out?
Helen saw that bed sharing mums have ‘micro-arousals’ frequently during the night. This means that they regularly come out of deep sleep, and are awake enough to check on their baby.

They feel where the baby is in relation to them, put their hand on the baby’s chest to make sure they are breathing and check the baby’s temperature by feeling their skin and then, they go back to sleep.

But, what about SIDS?
SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is every parent’s worst nightmare. Recent research carried out in the UK shows that there are circumstances that make co-sleeping dangerous and that increase the chances of a baby dying both by accident and suddenly, for unexplained reasons.

These include –

– Sleeping with a baby on a sofa
– A smoker sleeping with a baby or sleeping with a baby who has been exposed to smoke during pregnancy
– Sleeping with a premature baby or a baby who had a low birth weight
– Sleeping with a baby while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or medications that could make you drowsy

90% of SIDS deaths that occur while co-sleeping happen under dangerous circumstances like those above. That’s why it is vital to use safe bed sharing methods.

What if I don’t want to bed share?
That is totally your choice but something I did find interesting was that, among breastfeeding mums, 70-80% report that they have fallen asleep with their baby at some point.

Even if you do not plan on bed sharing it’s probably a good idea to have your bed set up so that, if you do end up bed sharing, even accidentally, you know you have minimised any risk.

Two things Helen wants you to know

Every baby is different
I love this because it is so true and if we could truly take this on board we could save ourselves so much stress. Comparing how your baby sleeps with how someone else’s baby sleeps really is pointless and can only bring doubt and worry.

This too shall pass
When you are in the middle of all the night wakings and feeling just so incredibly tired it can seem endless. But, the period when your little one will be waking through the night really is such a short one in the bigger picture of your life together.

I love that Helen even asks you to try and enjoy those middle of the night moments when it’s just you and your baby, cuddling, rocking and feeding. You might miss that time when it’s gone.

To wrap up
To co-sleep or not is a very personal decision for each family. If you follow safe sleep guidelines bed sharing could mean that, apart from getting more sleep, being in such close proximity to your baby, you are more likely to sense if they are in distress.

Also, both you and your baby will wake more regularly because of the other’s presence. This means that your baby is less likely to fall into too deep a sleep and that you will have ample opportunities to check on your baby throughout the night.

But!

It is important to do what feels right for you. If having your baby in bed with you does not feel right, having them in a separate bed in the same room for the first six to twelve months can decrease the risk of SIDS by up to 50%.

To learn more, I encourage you to listen to this episode and explore Helen’s website, www.infantsleepinfo.org.uk.

What is your experience of co-sleeping or room sharing? I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time!

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By emilywills

Emily Wills is a doula based in Stockholm. She believes that birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience and started this blog as a way of sharing some really great podcasts. She is also a mother of three and an enthusiastic runner.

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