Breastsleeping, from infancy to toddlerhood.

reading time: 4 minutes

One of my greatest assets of mothering is “breastsleeping.” A term that has been suggested by Dr. James McKenna, director of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory and Lee Gettler, director of the University’s Hormones, Health and Human Behavior Laboratory. You can read about it here.

In the very early days something didn’t feel right as I watched my baby (not) sleep in his bassinet next to my bed. The main reason was that he wouldn’t sleep without nursing, and he wouldn’t nurse without sleeping. Against my instinct I tried to go up and down all night; nursing-rocking-swaddling-pacifier…because I had been marketed cribs, shown on tv and movies, told by media outlets and unfortunately misinformed by baby sleep-campaigns that I shouldn’t bed-share. But it didn’t feel right, I didn’t want to mother my baby that way. He refused the pacifier and swaddling too tightly puts a baby at risk for SIDS and Hip Dysplasia. I couldn’t do it any longer. So I tucked my son next to me on a safe bed surface in the instinctual cuddle curl  that mothers have been using for thousands of years and I slept. And he slept. And nursed, then suddenly began thriving. It felt right. I realized that I loved “breast sleeping” as much as my son does.

In my experience breastfeeding is a powerful tool: it nourishes, comforts, quenches thirst, gives love, teaches patience, induces sleep, bonds, provides antibodies and is especially good for the mother, too.  And breastfeeding, for me, continues all through the night, providing another powerful tool to teach my son to sleep naturally. Without methods, programs or the dangers of crying it out away from me. For the times when he is finished nursing and wants some wiggle room for himself, my husband and I adapted his crib into a side-car, to continue safely sleeping throughout the night and through nap time, much like this family did.

You may be reading this with questions or concerns. Here are some that I have received and my typical responses:

Q: “Won’t he be in your bed forever?”
A: “I wish! Sadly, when he goes to college, he will probably want his own bed. More seriously, no, he will gradually sleep on his own when he’s ready.”

Q: “Is he still nursing?”
A: “Yes, why do you ask?”

Q: “When will you stop nursing?”
A: “When he doesn’t need it anymore.”

Q: “Doesn’t bed-sharing interrupt your intimacy with your husband?”
A: “No, in fact it inspires creativity!”

Q: “I thought bed-sharing wasn’t safe, what about SIDS? And won’t you roll over on your baby?”
A: “It’s not safe for some, there is something called the safe sleep seven. If you are a non-smoker, sober and unimpaired, a breastfeeding mother and your baby is: healthy and full-term, on his back, lightly dressed and you are both on a safe bed than your baby is at no greater risk for SIDS than if he is in a nearby crib. In fact, Dr. James McKenna would suggest that babies should never sleep alone. As for rolling over, I sleep in the cuddle curl which has been shown to make rolling over virtually impossible for a sober, unimpaired breastfeeding mother.”

I write this only to share my experience, breastfeeding is a gift that not everyone has been given, so I am humbly grateful to have received this gift. I was once a weary woman with an infant, fighting the current of her God-given instincts, until I let go and did what felt right. “Breastsleeping” has been a powerful tool that has helped me thrive as a mother; and I think for awhile longer, it will continue to be my greatest asset.

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