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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Prof Helen L. Ball

Ball, H.L. (2009). Bed-sharing and co-sleeping: Research overview. New Digest 48: 22-27.

Author(s) from Durham


This review examines the issue of babies
sleeping with their parents. Beginning with
an anthropological perspective, the
biological underpinnings of parent-baby
sleep contact are explored, as are crosscultural
practices. The relationship between
baby sleeping and feeding practices in the
UK is considered along with the safety
aspects of bed-sharing.

Key points:
• Parent-baby sleep contact is a
predictable human behaviour
based on our species’ evolutionary
• Bed-sharing is a common method
of night-time care employed by
around half of all UK parents in
their baby’s first month of life;
• Bed-sharing and breastfeeding are
strongly related and sleeping in
close proximity to their baby helps
mothers to breastfeed;
• Epidemiological data show that
bed-sharing is associated with an
increased risk of Sudden Infant
Death Syndrome (SIDS) for babies
whose parents are smokers,
consume alcohol or drugs, or who
sleep with their baby on a sofa;
• Research into the benefits and
hazards of bed-sharing should
consider WHO is bed-sharing; the
circumstances under which bedsharing
is taking place (WHERE
and HOW), and the way in which
bed-sharing is conducted (WHAT).
• There is no simple message about
bed-sharing that will fit the needs of
all families. Parents should be
encouraged to weigh up the risks
and benefits that pertain to their
individual circumstances and make
an informed choice about what is
best for them and their baby.