Happy Moms Have A Baby On Their Boob But Not In Their Bed, Says Confusing Study

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A study recently presented at American Public Health Association’s annual meeting asserts that mothers who nurse their child but opt out of co-sleeping –  a practice attachment parents say further encourages breastfeeding – display “optimal stress hormone rhythms.”  But how the stress of these mothers was quantified remains dubious to me.

In an effort to mitigate the really thorny hormone levels of the immediate postpartum woman, researcher Clarissa Simon and her colleagues at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University analyzed saliva samples from 195 women six months after giving birth.  Samples were collected when the mothers “woke up” (though no reference to which time that means, unless all these mothers had children sleeping through the night at six months old), then again 30 minutes after waking, and finally at bedtime to observe the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In a shell game of conclusions the vague results were as follows:

The women in the study with the best stress hormone patterns were the ones who breast-fed but refrained from sharing a bed with their baby, researchers found.  The women who fared the worst were those who co-slept and didn’t breast-feed.

Women who didn’t breast-feed, or who shared a bed with their infant, had less-than-optimal daily rhythms.

If you are wondering what is so psychologically superior about the women who breastfeed without co-sleeping, the researchers define the best results.

An optimal rhythm is one in which levels of the stress hormone cortisol are high in the morning, to prepare a person for the day’s events and stressors, and low in the evening, to allow for sleep.

I wonder if these researchers collected anything more than saliva from the mouths of these women.  Did they ask them if they were feeling stressed?  Did they ask if either of these practices relaxed them?  Probably not.   All parents with infants – Dr. Sears brand attachment parents, modified AP parents,  parents who live by the Ferber method – they all get stressed sometimes.  The study did not consider factors such as whether the woman was a first-time mother, whether the child was colic, or whether the family had help at home, yet those elements greatly impacted my own stress levels.  Far more than nursing and co-sleeping.

When I had my son I did exactly as this study would prescribe: I breastfed but did not co-sleep.  And I was a huge ball of stress.  I could tell you that without ever having my cortisol levels checked.  On the other hand, I was far more relaxed with my daughter with whom I breastfed and shared a bed.   That combination worked brilliantly for me, even though the study tells me I had less than perfect hormonal patterns.  And they are probably right – I bet it had less to with my cortisol levels than the fact that I was less of a nervous mother after my first and she was a less temperamental baby.

If you want optimal stress hormone rhythms, nurse but don’t share a bed.  If you want to be happy to just be getting by, do whatever works for you, your baby, and your family.

(photo: Dojo666 / Shutterstock)