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How Parents Bed-Share

Observational studies in the home, hospital and laboratory have produced remarkably consistent information about the way in which mothers and infants behave in a bed-sharing environment (Richard, Mosko, McKenna,& Drummond, 1996; Baddock et al, 2006, 2007; Ball 2001, 2006a,Ball et al. 2006. Randomised trial of infant sleep location on the post-natal ward. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 91:1005-10. Click here for a summary of this research. 2006b).

The cumulative results of these studies provide a robust understanding of breastfeeding-related bed-sharing behaviour and suggest that mothers' characteristic sleep position represents an instinctive behaviour on the part of a breastfeeding mother to protect her baby during sleep.

Mother-baby dyads who routinely bed-share and breastfeed sleep in close proximity with a high degree of mutual orientation (facing one another) and arousal overlap (waking at the same time). In recent years studies have shown breastfeeding dyads displaying consistent bed-sharing behaviour regardless of whether they slept in a narrow hospital bed, a full-size bed in a sleep lab, or at home in beds ranging from twin to king-sized (Baddock et al 2006; Ball 2006a, 2006b; Young et al 2001). Although this behaviour evolved in a very different sleep context than one adorned with Western beds and bedding, the principle of infant protection is no less effective. Breastfeeding mothers instinctively place their infants supine, level with their breasts, on the mattress surface (below the level of any pillows). Mothers assume a protective position in the bed - curled around the infant in a 'C' shape, with her arm above the infant's head and her knees drawn up under its feet, she thus protects it from environmental hazards - cold; heat; bedding and bed-partners.

Mothers and infants tend to face each other during the night; they remain close - within touching distance - at all times; and mothers and infants experience increased sleep synchrony compared to sleeping apart (Baddock et al 2006; Ball 2006a, 2006b; Richard & Mosko 1996).

Last modified: 30th August 2013