Booby Traps Series: How “never bedshare” leads breastfeeding moms to more dangerous sleep arrangements

This is the 50th post in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

You’ve probably heard the sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:  Sleep with your baby in the same room, but never on the same surface.  Go ahead and breastfeed your baby in bed, but don’t fall asleep with the baby in the bed.

But research by Dr. Kathleen Kendall Tackett shows that mothers, worried that they’ll fall asleep in bed while breastfeeding and endanger their their babies, is actually leading them to behaviors that pose far greater risks.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett has found, through her extensive surveying of breastfeeding mothers about their sleep patterns, that more than 50% of mothers breastfeed their babies at night in places other than the bed, such as chairs, recliners and couches.  And she found that over 40% of these mothers say that they fall asleep during these feedings, and that the more educated and higher income mothers were more likely to say they’d fallen asleep in those settings.

“The concern,” she says “is that this greatly increases the chance of accidental infant death. In one study, it was 67 times more likely if baby was sleeping with anyone on a couch, recliner, or other place where they are feeding their babies in the middle of the night.”

The AAP shares this concern, stating in their sleep policy:  “Because of the extremely high risk of SIDS and suffocation on couches and armchairs, infants should not be fed on a couch or armchair when there is a high risk that the parent might fall asleep.”

“My objection to the “never bedshare” message,” says Dr. Kendall-Tackett, “is that mothers who are trying to avoid it are engaging in a far more dangerous behavior–and that is genuinely frightening.”

Of course, there are some situations in which co-sleeping is considered unsafe, too:  when people in the bed are using sedatives, medications or drugs, or are intoxicated (for a complete list and safe co-sleeping guidelines, please see Dr. James McKenna’s safe co-sleeping site).

But for most nursing mothers who are trying to follow the “never bedshare” rule, and fall asleep with their babies on a couch or a chair, they’re finding themselves caught in one big sleeper of a Booby Trap.

Did you co-sleep with your baby?  Did you try to feed him in another place at night because you were afraid to co-sleep?  Did you fall asleep while feeding your baby on the couch, in a chair, or elsewhere other than your bed?


18 thoughts on “Booby Traps Series: How “never bedshare” leads breastfeeding moms to more dangerous sleep arrangements

  1. I started off trying not to bedshare. We had a co-sleeper, or I would nurse lying on the couch and then transfer my newborn to a moses basket on the floor. Not the worst habits, but next time I’ll know to just start on the bed in the first place!

    One of the few things I always tell new moms is to PLAN on co-sleeping. I take a minute to explain why it’s safer to plan ahead for it and how much it helped me get better sleep when my son was born. Our society really needs to help each other and give other moms better advice! Trying to do my part. 🙂


    1. I totally agree. I had also not planned on it. I did often fall asleep in my rocker or sitting up in bed. It was not safe until i decided to trust my instincts and co sleep. I became a much healthier momma. I feel like i needed more moral support and better information as a new momma. one big step in changing that is to be more supportive ourselves.


    2. I didnt have anyone to tell me not to. I just knew that a high SIDS risk was putting a baby to sleep on its stomach, which makes perfect sense.

      I just found it easier to sleep with my baby in a firm bed than to be trying to lift her out of a basket or crib and then trying to get her to settle again. And yes I did have her between me and the wall to stop her falling out of bed. If you sleep so lightly that you wake up at the slightest ‘peep’ I couldnt see that there was any risk. Westeners seem to be the only people that try to force a newborn to sleep alone. I always aksed myself what would I do if I were an some ancient tribal/nomadic woman living in the wild? I would not have been leaving my baby to cry alone in the dark out of easy reach. It helped me solve a lot of questions on caring for a baby?


      1. That is an awesome perspective you have, Nerida! I co-sleep because all the oxytocin makes me sleepy and I have the best cuddler. 🙂


  2. I started off trying not to. We had our daughter in her crib in her room from the first night home from the hospital because we foolishly didn’t get a bassinet. I’d go in and nurse in the rocker but didn’t start dozing off during feedings until I went back to work when she was 10 weeks old. I fell asleep in the glider several times and it was a frighteningly deep sleep – I figured she would be safer in our bed with no pillows or blankets near her rather than perched on my lap on a nursing pillow with me sleeping soundly. So I started bringing her into bed and it was all right. Not amazing or awesome, just all right.

    We did part time bedsharing. She went to sleep in her own crib and I nursed her before I went to bed and she went back into her crib. When she woke overnight (usually 2-3 AM) we’d bring her into our bed to nurse and she stayed with us until we woke up.

    Unlike many moms, I was never fully comfortable having our daughter in our bed when she was an infant. While it felt natural, I was SO scared that something would go wrong and it made my husband nervous too. I didn’t feel OK about the safety of bed sharing until she was 5-6 months old and by then she was only waking once overnight to nurse, which I could handle without falling asleep. She’s consistently slept through the night since 9-10 months old. Other than a handful of times when she’s been sick she hasn’t slept in our bed in over a year (she’s turning 2 next week) – we all sleep better in our own space.

    When we have another baby in the future we’ll get a cosleeper so that the baby can be right next to me to nurse, but not IN our bed. I’m pretty confident that for our family, that is a better choice.


  3. This article speaks volumes. I remember when my oldest was an infant and I was so afraid to have him in the bed. He wouldn’t stay asleep if I put him down though, so it was very frustrating. I would try to sit up in bed propped up with pillows and try to nurse him but found myself falling asleep anyway. It was so scary to awaken and find the baby in an even more dangerous position. I finally gave in and nursed him laying down and accepted that I might fall asleep. It was much safer and I could block him from the pillows and keep him away from the blankets. With my second, we bed shared from the beginning. As they matured and were able to be set down after falling asleep at the breast, They would start the night in their own bed, then come to ours when they awakened. It made a very smooth transition for my oldest to his own bed for the whole night and it’s going that way with our second.


  4. By the way, the picture included with the article isn’t quite accurate. For safe bedsharing, the baby is down at breast level, well away from pillows.


  5. I trusted my motherly instincts; not the American Academy of Pediatrics. I need them for medical guidance, not parental or nurturing. I co-slept with both my babies, exclusively breastfed, and we both experienced amazing benefits. Best decision ever. My babies are six and four now, and I look back to those moments with pure joy and contentment. They grow so fast!


  6. We never intended on co-sleeping with our son. He slept right next to my side of the bed, but I would pull him into bed with me to eat and then put him back. It got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping because I knew he’d be awake, he wasn’t sleeping because he wasn’t close to me, and needless to say we weren’t getting enough sleep. So he came to bed with us. It was the best decision we ever made. He still goes to bed in his pack n play next to us, but when he wakes up he comes to bed. We all sleep so much better. I feel secure knowing that he is secure by my breasts. He is now 4.5 months old and I still love having him close. We always follow safe co-sleeping rules. If I am exhausted, under any influences, or any reason why co-sleeping would not be safe he sleeps in his pnp.


  7. I was nervous about bed-sharing solely because of the urgent recommendations against it. However my daughter was a very clingy newborn who simply hated to sleep anywhere away from me and I took to bed-sharing with her fairly regularly from the start – and I found myself very aware on an unconscious level of her presence with me and I was never worried about rolling over on her. I only slept with her when my partner slept in a separate bed, though, because he wasn’t quite as aware and I didn’t like having that little space. When she got to about 6-8 weeks, she settled quite well into going to sleep herself (at night time anyway – still refuses to nap unless I’m holding her!) but I do tend to fall asleep when giving her her early morning feed (usually around 4 AM) in the side-lying nursing position and wake up after about 30-40 minutes and pop her back into her crib. I try to let her sleep in her crib if at all possible, because lying in the same position all night hurts my back a little, but again if she’s having a fussy night I might send her daddy packing to the spare room and let her co-sleep. As I said, though, if she’s with me, my mind is definitely aware of it; it’s the only time I stay completely still while asleep. I think warnings against co-sleeping are important because there are so many things you have to be careful about – pillows, covers, bed space, sleeping partners, sleeping habits – that it’s easier to just tell people to not do it. I do think that if it’s just mum and baby in a large bed with baby well away from the edge, well down from mum’s pillow and in NO danger of getting blankets over their face, it’s actually completely natural. After all, where did babies sleep before we invented cribs? There must be some built-in maternal instinct to not roll over your baby.


  8. I’ve been cosleeping with my little one pretty much since birth. She turns one today. No regrets whatsoever. I have never even come close to endangering her. My instincts override any deep sleep I’m in. Because of nursing and cosleeping, I have never been short on sleep. I love sleeping with her.


  9. I co-slept with both of our kids. I had my 1st in the co-sleeper next to the bed and would feed him in our chase lounge in our bedroom. I did fall asleep once! NEVER AGAIN! From that moment on–I nursed him in bed next to me. With my daughter, I tried to have her in the co-sleeper next to me again..but ended up having her right next to me in bed. There weren’t any pillows next to them or blankets. We safely slept next to each other. My son is now almost 6.5 and daughter is almost 3.


  10. I am guilty of this, and looking back, I can’t believe I did that. I was very anti-bedsharing early on, and my daughter simply would not sleep in the bassinet or crib. I would nurse her most of the night, and I was so exhausted that I ended up falling asleep in a chair while she was nursing. When she turned eight weeks, after extensively researching bedsharing, I set up a safe environment for us to bedshare. She’s now 14 months, and we are still bedsharing.

    Rather than a blanket “no bedsharing” guideline, the AAP really should educate parents about how to bedshare safely. This article is spot on: many exhausted new parents might make unsafe decisions during those challenging first few months. I’m very comfortable with my decision to bedshare now, but early on, I felt like I was failing as a parent and doing something wrong because I had a baby who hated the crib. Parents need support on this topic, and they need to be educated about safe bedsharing.


  11. Thankfully, I had my daughter at a birthing center and was assisted by midwives whose practice is guided by common sense and empirical knowledge. As a single, broke pregnant woman, I went into a panic at appointment because I couldn’t afford a crib. The midwife just said, “it’s ok, she can sleep with you.” What relief….and we lived happily ever after.


  12. I have co-slept with both my little ones from the moment they were born. They both hard a hard time being away from mama and wouldn’t sleep on their own. I hate that I gave in and eventually made my daughter sleep in her own bed. Makes things so much more difficult when I have to wake up in the middle of the night to go lay in bed wiht her and then hurry out when my ds wakes up bc he realizes Im gone. co-sleeping is great. it provides not just security but a great love of family. i dont regret sleeping with my babies.


  13. I grew up in a cosleeping household….my mom had 6 babies and I was raised thinking cosleeping was the norm. When I had my baby, all the literature said cosleeping is dangerous, and my pediatrician seemed to equate it with attempted murder….so I planned on using a bassinet by my bed. I used it for the first 3 weeks. I found myself so tired that when’s fed my baby, sitting up in bed, I’d fall asleep while feeding him and I would slump forward. It was dangerous. I was afraid I would suffocate him! Then I looked at the “evidence” and found that without risk factors like smoking, drinking, drugs, obesity, etc, that cosleeping can be safe. What probably convinced me the most was thinking about how no other mammal species sleeps apart from their young…a baby should sleep in the comfort of his mama warmth and protection! I put my baby in bed with me and have never turned back. I’m now well-rested and I love snuggling up to my baby (now 13mo old) at night. Breastfeeding overnight is so easy! Sometimes I think he eats without even waking me up….now that he knows how to pull my shirt up! Lol. Now I wish I had coslept from the beginning….I feel bad that my baby had to sleep alone for those first 3 weeks! It’s not natural and he must have felt so alone! Whenever it comes time to give him a sibling, I will put the baby in bed with me straight off! We donated our bassinet to Syrian refugees!


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