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La Leche League Supports Safe Bed Sharing

La Leche League New Zealand

Media release
16 December 2008

La Leche League Supports Safe Bed Sharing

The international breastfeeding support organisation, La Leche League, has spoken out in favour of safe bed sharing for breastfeeding mothers and babies. 

Last week Wellington coroner Garry Evans and others called for babies to sleep separately from their mothers, claiming that bed sharing increases the risk of infant death. 

However Barbara Sturmfels, the Director of La Leche League New Zealand, says that this has only been shown to be the case when there are compounding issues such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, obesity or excessive tiredness or when guidelines for safe bedding are not adhered to. 

She says when none of these factors are present, there seems to be no clear evidence that bed sharing is a risk to a baby’s life and in fact in some situations it may be a protective factor for the baby.

“For some mothers, having their babies sleeping in bed beside them can make all the difference in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding.

“Close co-sleeping enables the healthy breastfeeding mother and baby to settle naturally into safe synchronised sleeping, waking and feeding patterns, each responding to the other’s movement and cues. 

“It helps the mother and her baby to become attuned and responsive to each other.” 

She says research by UK researcher Helen Ball shows that mothers who sleep next to their breastfed babies are sensitive to their babies’ presence during the night and maintain a safe sleeping position that protects babies from overlying.  

“Separate-sleep options where babies sleep in the same room, especially options such as side-cars and wahakura (flax baskets) that enable babies to sleep very close to their mothers, are to be encouraged for families who don’t wish to bed share or who can’t provide a safe bed sharing environment for any reason. But where breastfeeding families want to bed share and can do so safely, this option needs to be presented positively.”

Comments by some that breastfeeding is ‘just as easy’ when the baby sleeps close by but on a separate surface show little appreciation of the intricate and intimate nature of what is going on in a breastfeeding relationship, according to Barbara Sturmfels. To fall asleep together after lying down to breastfeed is the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, it is a normal hormonal response by the mother which protects and supports her need for sufficient sleep.   

“Many New Zealand parents from many cultural backgrounds share sleep with their babies, for all or part of the night, so rather than condemning an important strategy used to make parenting easier and more pleasurable, accurate messages on how to safely share sleep and when to avoid it need to be given.”


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