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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Prof Helen L. Ball

Ball, H.L. (2012). Sleeping with the baby. Breastfeeding Briefs 53: 1-12.

Author(s) from Durham


Who sleeps with their baby, and why?
More babies bed-share in the first few weeks of life than at any other age. On any given night between 20
and 25% of babies under 3 months of age spend some time sharing a bed with a parent and during their first
3 months up to 70% of babies in Euro-American households will have bed-shared once or more.2,3,4 When
parents are interviewed about sleeping with their baby they give various reasons for doing so.5,6,7 Their
answers express deeply rooted cultural or religious beliefs and parenting philosophies, invoke the
physiological links between lactation and night-time breastfeeding, and reflect the biological compulsion that
drives bonding and the urge for close contact. On a practical level they also explain that sleeping with the
baby makes night-time care easier, helps them to monitor the baby, provide comfort, and yet obtain sleep.
Other parents report having nowhere else to put their baby at night, or that they have fallen asleep with their
baby unintentionally. For breastfeeding mothers all of these reasons may apply, and so it is unsurprising that
the largest group of bed-sharers around the globe are breastfeeding mothers.