So you're a little panicked about your baby being safe while sleeping. I get it. You're triple and quadruple-checking that your baby is laying in the right position, they don't have blankets or pillows in the crib with them, and maybe you even have one of those heart monitor things. But sometimes, your baby is going to fall asleep on you, especially if they're breastfeeding. So is it OK for your baby to nap on your boob while breastfeeding?
According to pediatrician Eboni Hollier, it should be safe for your baby to continue nursing while napping, however it could be a sign you have slow milk flow. “If your baby is just sleepy, you may undress her down to her diaper, tickle her feet, change her diaper to get her to wake up more to feed, or attempt breast compressions to increase milk flow, which is a technique developed by pediatrician Jack Newman," she tells Romper in an email interview.
As far as SIDS or suffocation, Hollier says that’s very unlikely to happen while your little one sleeps on your breast because breastfeeding mothers instinctively have positioning between herself and the baby. “When there is an instance of a baby being smothered during sleep, it is most likely due to the mother’s bed partner or if there are substances involved such as drugs or alcohol which can cause impaired arousal and awareness. Also, smothering is more likely to occur with unsafe sleep surfaces such as recliners, sofas, and even cribs that are not flat and firm."
Pediatrician Jarret Patton agrees, and provided some really fascinating insights about your baby’s anatomy: “The cute flattened out nose of newborns is a protection for them to be able to breathe around the breast without being smothered,” he tells Romper in an email interview.
Additionally, “Infants have a number of adaptive mechanisms that keep them safe while feeding. One of an infant's most primitive reflexes is the suck reflex, which is important for feeding and allows a baby to nurse while sleeping,” he says. “They typically will get most of the milk out of a breast in the first five to 10 minutes of a feed. After that, there is not much milk left, but it does the baby and mother no harm." Apparently, babies can use their mother as a pacifier, so they may suck while sleeping and not really feed, which is another reason that they don't choke while feeding.
What about bad sleep habits forming? Hollier says she thinks that generally, babies should be put to bed when they’re drowsy and not completely asleep during the first few months of life. “If your baby falls asleep during nursing, and you’re ready to put her down to sleep, it may be helpful to change her diaper to arouse her a bit prior to putting her in her crib to sleep. This will help avoid forming sleep associations related to breastfeeding, which are things that a child associates with falling asleep and may delay your baby learning to fall asleep on her own,” she says. Without the sleep association being in place, the child may have significant difficulty falling asleep in the future.
So don’t worry — your baby is "designed" both by instinct and their anatomy to be able to breastfeed properly, and it’s perfectly OK if they fall asleep on your boob. Enjoy those snuggles, even with one boob hanging out of your tank top.