You might not be familiar with the term "breastsleeping," but here's a newsflash: If you're a co-sleeping mom who breastfeeds, then you're probably already doing it. Basically, breastsleeping = breastfeeding while bed-sharing, and, as with most things, there's a right way to do it (or a couple of right ways, actually). Yes, the process of breastsleeping is a largely instinctual one which mostly entails rolling over so your hungry baby can latch on — but particularly when you're first getting started, you're bound to have a few questions. Such as, what are the best positions for breastsleeping?
As described by Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, and Dr. Lee Gettler, director of the Hormones, Health, and Human Behavior Laboratory, both at the University of Notre Dame, breastsleeping can be done safely as long as parents follow the same guidelines that apply to bed-sharing in general; for example, avoid excess pillows and heavy blankets or duvet covers, don't take substances (like cold medicines) that make you drowsy, don't allow pets in your bed, and make sure infants sleep on their backs.
Once you've got all the safety guidelines checked off your list, it's time to figure out exactly how you're going to maneuver yourself and your baby into place when the moment arises (which it will, again and again). There aren't a tremendous amount of options when it comes to breastsleeping positions, to tell you the truth. That's partly because "in-arm" positions like the football and cradle holds can be unsafe during shared sleep, as Danielle Downs Spradlin, a certified lactation counselor and the founder of Oasis Lactation Services, tells Romper. ("In-arm" suggests the potential of "out-of-arm," after all, which means there's a possibility your baby could be dropped if you nod off.)
"The best position is one where the baby’s airway is open and there is no risk of fabric from bedding or clothing obstructing the face," says Spradlin. "Two fingers should easily fit under the baby’s chin without touching the chest. The chin should be lifted up from the chest. For some nursing pairs this can be achieved side-lying or with baby on top in a laid-back position."
Indeed, side-lying seems to be the most common position of choice for breastsleeping moms, as certified lactation consultant Rachel O'Brien tells Romper.
"The vast majority of breastsleeping parents lay on their side and curl into a C shape, but this means baby can only nurse from the 'bottom' breast," she notes.
If this is something you've experienced, you know it's less than ideal: One side ends up overly full and/or clogged, and if the habit persists, you might find yourself in a semi-permanent "lopsided" situation (ahem, been there).
Luckily, there is a way to avoid this.
"If you turn your body 3/4 onto your stomach, you'll be able to offer the 'top' breast without moving baby to the other side of the bed," O'Brien says.
The side-lying position couldn't be simpler, but it can take some time to get the hang of it. (I had a really hard time figuring it out when my first was a newborn — it didn't really "click" for us until she'd gotten a little bigger and had developed more strength in her neck. With my next two, however, we started side-lying right away.) If the mechanics of it seem mysterious, these are the basics: First, lie down on your side in bed (making sure there are no potentially smothering pillows or blankets in the vicinity). Then, lay your baby down next to you, lining up her mouth with your nipples. And... you're good to go! Expect some fiddling and fumbling before you get the perfect latch, but once this one works, it's a winner.
Now, back to that "laid-back" position Spradlin mentioned. Another favorite with breastsleeping moms, laid back nursing is actually called "biological nurturing" by the Le Leche League, so that should tell you something about the intuitive nature of this position. Either lying flat on your back or propped up a bit, just place your baby on your chest (she should be facing you, of course). If you continue to nurse when your baby is crawling, don't be surprised to find her initiating this one in the middle of the night!
I'm no expert, but I did breastsleep with all three of my kids, and I can tell you that it definitely worked for my family. I didn't start out intending to co-sleep at all, but after stumbling out of bed to feed my firstborn a million or so times a night for a few days, it's just what happened... and when it came to my next two babies, I couldn't have imagined doing it any other way. One word of advice: Don't bother with nice bedsheets for the first year or so (unless you don't mind breastmilk stains!).
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.