Breastsleeping seems to be the most natural, instinctive thing in the world for breastfeeding moms, but it can feel intrusive if you're sharing your bed with a partner. Like bed-sharing, this is a topic that comes up a lot for breastsleeping moms — will it work if there's someone else in the bed? Can I breastsleep if I sleep with my partner?
In short, yes. But on one condition — your partner needs to be aware of what's happening in the bed. Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at University of Notre Dame, is an advocate for breastsleeping and has shared many safe co-sleeping guidelines for parents. One of them? Making sure both people in the bed feel the same responsibility for the care and well-being of the child. Meaning, keeping your little one safe while breastsleeping isn't just your job, it's your partner's, too. If they aren't interested, breastsleeping might have to occur in a bed without your partner.
But if your partner gives you the OK, is it still safe? There are a lot of horror stories about parents rolling over on their children in the night or moving blankets over a baby's face, but if you adopt the practice of breastsleeping as its described by experts, it should be more than OK for you to breastsleep with your partner in bed. Dr. Cecilia Tomori, anthropologist with postdoctoral training in public health, Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and author of Nighttime Breastfeeding: An American Cultural Dilemma, tells Romper that the context of sleep and its environment is key when discussing the safety of breastsleeping.
She suggests that the researchers behind breastsleeping, McKenna and Dr. Lee Gettler, are discussing breastsleeping when practiced "in the absence of all known hazardous factors," and are assuming that the breastfed baby is a full-term healthy infant and that breastsleeping is happening on a safe space. "A firm surface (never the couch or sofa), without any soft bedding that can entrap or cover the head of the baby and no smoking, no impairing medications, alcohol, or other substances that can make the parent impaired," Tomori says. "This is not a blanket recommendation — it is using evolutionary thinking, observations in the lab, and cross-cultural practices to inform our understanding. It is also the recognition that evolutionary mechanisms underlie why so many breastfeeding parents find themselves sleeping next to their babies regardless of their intentions."
So what does that mean for breastsleeping with your partner in the bed? As long as your partner understands what a safe sleeping environment is and agrees to abide by the safety guidelines associated with breastsleeping, there's no issue. Worried about your baby's space in the bed? Don't — you'll develop an instinctive position that will protect your little one.
"Breastfeeding moms are attuned to their babies in specific physiological ways and they usually place their babies under their arms (their arms blocking the pillow above), with the baby facing the breast, and their bodies curved around them, creating a safe space for the baby," Tomori says. "In fact, they spontaneously adopt this posture without ever being told to do so, which likely reflects another evolutionary adaptation."
Breastsleeping doesn't mean putting your baby in the middle of the bed, turning your back to them, and only waking up when they are hungry. It's a new way of both sleeping and breastfeeding. McKenna wrote that there is "no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping" when he penned his commentary on the parenting decision. You aren't just co-sleeping, you're breastsleeping. And as long as you take the necessary precautions and have your partner on board, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to breastsleep with your partner in the bed. (You just have to get a little creative elsewhere in the house if you want some intimacy at night, too.)