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Do you breastfeed overnight? You need to know these new expert recommendations.

It’s one of the hidden taboos of breastfeeding.

Something that so many of us have done by accident, only to wake suddenly, ashamed, in terror.

Many of us have fallen asleep while breastfeeding.

Have you felt that jolt of horror when you wake and realise where you are? That second of panic while you check your newborn?

That feeling of relief as though you’d dodged a bullet when you find her soundly sleeping and yes, thankfully, breathing okay.

50% of mothers breastfeed their babies at night in places other than the bed, Via IStock.

The exhaustion caused by the demands of being a new mother and the endless rounds of breastfeeding, combined with the fact that breastfeeding actually physically makes you sleepy means that it’s a common phenomenon.

In 2012 Dr Kathleen Kendall Tackett found that more than 50% of mothers breastfeed their babies at night in places other than the bed, such as chairs, armchairs and couches, and over 40% of these mothers say that they fall asleep during these feedings.

Findings like this helped point out the obvious – by telling mothers not to co-sleep they were feeling the pressure to ensure they didn’t fall asleep in bed with their infants and so were accidentally falling asleep in places far more dangerous - like armchairs or couches.

It's with this in mind that the traditional advice on how to prevent sudden infant death has been turned on its head in a massive policy shift by for the world’s leading group of paediatric experts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has, this week, updated its advice on how to prevent sudden infant death syndrome and other sleep-related deaths in a new policy statement.

The guidelines reaffirm many of the recommendations from the AAP’s previous policy which are shared by Australia’s Red Nose (previously Sids and Kids).  They say parents should place babies to sleep on their backs and on a firm surface without any soft or loose bedding, and in the same room but not in the same bed.

But the AAP have now included an acknowledgement of the exhaustion of new parents and that some mothers do fall asleep while feeding their babies and thus should plan for that.

While the recommendations don’t go as far as endorsing co-sleeping they say that the less risky place to fall asleep with a newborn is in your bed.

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Where you breastfeed at night could make a difference. Via IStock.

Rachel Moon, professor of paediatrics at University of Virginia School of Medicine and lead author of the policy statement told The Washington Post: “We’ve heard stories of parents who take their baby to the couch to feed, because they’re afraid that they’ll fall asleep while feeding on the bed."

“Since the couch is a much more dangerous place for this to happen, we wanted to be sure that parents knew this.”

Co-author, Lori Feldman-Winter, professor of paediatrics at Cooper Medical School said the process of breastfeeding makes mothers sleepy.

“If a mother thinks she may fall asleep while feeding we actually recommend that she feed the baby in the bed, because feeding the baby in a sofa or an armchair is more hazardous if she falls asleep,” she said.

Mothers are being advised to breastfeed in bed at night by the AAP. Via IStock.

With 60% of parents admitting to co-sleeping at some stage it's important to educate parents how to do it properly.

The AAP also recommends that babies should share a room (but not a bed) with their parents for at least six months and ideally up to one year.

Dr Moon recommends that if a baby does happen to end up in your bed you need to make it like a cot – a firm mattress, and no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant's breathing or cause overheating.

Red Nose CEO, Associate Professor Leanne Raven, welcomed the new guidelines.

“The new policy statement from the American Academy of Paediatrics reinforces the important safe sleeping education Red Nose provides to health professionals, childcare workers, new and expectant mothers, parents and anyone who cares for babies and infants in Australia," she told Mamamia.

"Evidence shows the safest place to sleep a baby is in their own cot or bassinet in the same room as an adult care-giver for the first six to twelve months of life," Professor Raven added.

The professor urged parents to remember that there is a "very high risk" of infant death, including deaths attributed to fatal sleeping accidents, when a baby shares a sofa or couch with an adult during sleep.

Anyone who cares for babies and infants can download the Red Nose Safe Sleeping App which provides valuable information on safe sleeping guidelines or visit the Red Nose website, www.rednose.com.au

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