Breastfeeding is a natural and generally safe practice. It can help prevent infections and reduce the risk of cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Despite how tired you may be as a new parent and how frequently you need to breastfeed, it is not safe to let yourself fall asleep while breastfeeding.
Falling asleep while breastfeeding is dangerous. According to the Lullaby Trust, independent studies show that falling asleep with your baby while in a chair or on a sofa is risky, even if you are not breastfeeding. Your baby can fall or succumb to a condition called overlying. Overlying is when a baby dies of suffocation due to the obstruction of their airways while lying against the mother. This can happen anywhere.
The AAP recommends against breastfeeding and then falling asleep in bed with your baby. Rolling over and suffocating your baby is a possibility. Also, your baby can roll out of bed or get caught between the bed and a wall. Sleeping with your baby is particularly risky if your baby was born premature, had a low birth weight or is under 4 months. Drinking alcohol, taking medication that makes you drowsy and being a smoker -- even if you do not smoke in the house -- also increases the risk that your baby can be injured.
Although sleeping while breastfeeding or sleeping in bed with your baby can lead to suffocation, sleeping near your baby safely is still possible. Keeping your baby near at night makes nighttime breastfeeding easier. The safest place for your baby is in a bassinet or crib next to the bed. Purchase a bassinet or even a play yard with a removable side that attaches to the bed. This keeps your baby in easy reach and prevents the possibility of accidentally rolling onto him. A bassinet is a safer option for daytime naps, as well.
Do not allow your baby to fall asleep while breastfeeding. Although not as dangerous as allowing yourself to fall asleep, your baby may become accustomed to nursing before naps and bedtime if you let him fall asleep while nursing. Tickle your baby's feet, burp him often or undress him if he begins to fall asleep. Offer him his thumb or a pacifier before putting him down to rest as a substitute for your nipple.
- Pediatrics: Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis
- Pediatrics: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment
- KidsHealth: Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep -- Yours and Your Baby's
- The Lullaby Trust: Sleep Safe, Sleep Sound, Share a Room With Me
- Net Doctor: Breastfeeding
- The Lullaby Trust: Safer Sleep for Babies - A Guide for Parents