Don't Retract Pack

Study Finds Breastfeeding, CoSleeping Mothers Get More Sleep

By Danelle Frisbie © 2011

Researchers at the College of Nursing at East Tennessee State University found that breastfeeding mothers get more sleep when sharing sleep with their baby (i.e. sleeping within an arm's reach of baby, or 'cosleeping'). 

Previous studies have found that breastfed babies have protective stages of healthy sleep/wake cycles - reducing the risk of SIDS and other breathing, hormonal, and bio-regulatory irregularities. It was previously thought that because breastfed babies spend more of their day and night in an alert state, that their mothers may have less sleep than formula fed babies' mothers.

Drs. Stephanie Quillin and Lee Glenn, who led the study at East Tennessee State, sought to address the unsolved question of whether there is an interaction between the type of feeding (breastfed or formula fed) and sleep arrangements (sharing sleep vs. solo sleeping) that impacts mothers' postpartum sleep.

Thrity-three first time mothers and their newborns participated in the study over the course of their fourth week postpartum. Total amount of sleep, amount of night-time sleep, number of wakings, and number of sleep periods in 24 hours were recorded using a modified version of the Barnard and Eyres sleep instrument.

Results showed that breastfed babies did have less total sleep per day than formula fed babies, but that nursing, cosleeping mothers enjoyed more sleep in each 24 hour period than those who fed by bottle or put baby to sleep solo. Breastfeeding mothers also slept significantly more often than other mothers when sharing sleep at night or during naps. Bottle feeding mothers' amount of sleep was not changed by the location of their baby, (which is not to suggest that infants didn't benefit from sleeping near their mothers, as we know hormones, respiration, and cardiovascular systems are significantly impacted when a baby is close to his mother during sleep vs. left solo and apart from her).

Average total sleep for a four week old baby was approximately 14 hours daily. Researchers concluded that mothers do in fact receive the most sleep postpartum when breastfeeding and sleeping next to their baby. They have suggested the need for increased and improved methods and means for breastfeeding mothers and their babies to share sleep in a safe manner.

As sociological, anthropological, and historical research has shown, the system of sharing sleep is not a novel one. Most mothers and their babies around the world today, and throughout human history, sleep near to each other during the early years of vulnerability and need for night time nourishment, comfort, security and regulation. Included in this sleep sharing paradigm are all other mammals whose babies sleep near mom during early development, and who, like humans, are defined as 'mammals' in part due to their need for mothers' milk.


Gerhardt, S. (1999). Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Janov, A. (2000). The Biology of Love. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Liedloff, J. (1985). The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. 

Quillin, S. I. M. and Glenn, L. L. (2004). "Interaction Between Feeding Method and Co-Sleeping on Maternal-Newborn Sleep." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 33: 580–588.

Small, M. (1999). Our Babies, Ourselves. New York: Random House.

Related Reading

Good Nights! The Happy Parents' Guide to the Family Bed and a Peaceful Night's Sleep

Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep

The Baby Sleep Book

Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to CoSleeping

The Family Bed: An Age Old Concept in Child Rearing



  1. Danielle NethertonJuly 19, 2011 2:16 PM

    Great article! I still agree with a comment I read on the peaceful parenting website one day that said whenever I question my parenting choices I ask myself "What would cave mama do?" Would cave mama put her baby in another cave to sleep? haha no, that would be silly.

  2. This is so, so true in our home. I elected to complete a post-doc and get my feet wet in my chosen field prior to becoming a mother. Through trial and error I soon learned that the best way to get a good night's sleep and still put in a good 1/2 day here and there at the clinic was to bring my baby to bed - or in our case, to side-car a crib for ease of use. The night nursing relationship has allowed me to get the sleep I need, kept milk supply high, and prevented us from resorting to cry it out or other variations of the damaging sleep training cycle. Articles and information like this are those we are never given in med school - no one preps us for balancing our lives as mothers and career women. So thank you for doing so!

  3. Doing what nature intended leads to positive things?! Who would have thought... ;)

  4. I slept great when I decided to co-sleep with my son. No getting up half dead, making a bottle after waking up to my already upset crying daughter... I'll never make that mistake again.

  5. A study proving what I already know! I love that! I've had one daughter sleep with us and one in a bassinet. Having my daughter sleep with us has been a God-send, sleep-wise!

    Now if I could get all those people off my back telling me that I am doing the wrong thing, going to regret it later, etc. At least having enough sleep enables me to hear the comments and ignore them without snapping!

  6. I became a cosleeper by accident with my first as she decided to nurse more and more in the night. With my second I did it on purpose 6 months in so we could all get some sleep. With #3 we have been happily cosleeping since day 1 and everyone is happier b/c mama gets more sleep! I wouldn't have it any other way!

    Ps the first two transitioned to sleeping in their own rooms no problem and sleep independently all night!

  7. Friends of ours first encouraged us to co-sleep when we were pregnant with our first daughter. While I was happy it worked for them, I wasn't so sure about it myself. Then I had my daughter, and she wouldn't sleep anywhere but at my side. My second daugther was the same. My oldest is now three and sleeps in her own bed through the night (8 pm to 8 am) and has done that since about 16 months. My youngest is now fourteen months and still wakes up two to three times a night. I co-sleep with her simply because I get more sleep, as this article says. She spends the first five hours of the night in her own crib; when she wakes up the first time, I just keep her in my bed, because then we're both back asleep in about ten minutes. If I try to put her in her crib again, I have to stay awake until she's completely asleep, tiptoe back to her room with her, and return to my bed, at which time it usually takes me ten or twenty minutes to get myself back to sleep. Cosleeping is simply the easiest, most practical solution. :)

  8. Yeah, I could've told you that 25 years ago.

  9. every breasfeeding cosleeping mother knows this! hehe

  10. Yeah, that! I've never even owned one of those rocking chairs...I looked at them in the baby stores and thought, "How would you get any sleep in a rocker?" We had a firm futon, low to the floor, that I used for nursing and co-sleeping with both of our kids.

    My first child slept in a bassinet, then a crib, and we'd use the futon for nursing before putting her down for the night and then similar to what Koala Bear Writer described: when she woke around midnight for a feed, I'd just take her to the futon and we'd both sleep there all night. She'd often have a feed around 3am too. Without co-sleeping, I'd be walking down the hall twice a night to tend to her--and getting less sleep.

    By the time my son came along, 3.5 years later, we dispensed with the crib all together (he didn't sleep in it once) and just used the futon after he outgrew the bassinet. Worked great. Everyone got sleep and was content.

  11. I've loved, when people have asked me if my babies (now 4 & 2 years old) are sleeping thru the night, getting to respond "I don't know, but I'VE been sleeping thru since about 1-2 months!"

  12. I think psychologically, it also rests the mind of the mother, where her child is just a near so that she has a peace of mind when sleeping.

    1. I never thought of this, but yes! Having my baby with me made me feel more secure about her safety.

  13. Why didn't they just ask us moms?

  14. What about AFTER a year old? Is there any studies made regarding breastfeeding mothers getting more sleep after the child is 12months plus?

    1. I know I got a LOT more sleep post-1-year because we didn't ever have to deal with night time fears or bedtime anxiety like so many others I know... Our little one knew our sleeping room (as we call it) was a safe, cozy place to 'snuggle in' at night. :)