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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Prof Helen L. Ball

Ball, H.L. (2006). Parent-Infant Bed-sharing Behavior: effects of feeding type, and presence of father. Human Nature: an interdisciplinary biosocial perspective 17(3): 301-318.

Author(s) from Durham


An evolutionarily informed perspective on parent-infant sleep contact challenges
recommendations regarding appropriate parent-infant sleep practices based on large
epidemiological studies. In this study regularly bed-sharing parents and infants participated
in an in-home video study of bed-sharing behavior. Ten formula-feeding
and ten breast-feeding families were filmed for 3 nights (adjustment, dyadic, and
triadic nights) for 8 hours per night. For breast-fed infants, mother-infant orientation,
sleep position, frequency of feeding, arousal, and synchronous arousal were all
consistent with previous sleep-lab studies of mother-infant bed-sharing behavior,
but significant differences were found between formula and breast-fed infants. While
breast-feeding mothers shared a bed with their infants in a characteristic manner
that provided several safety benefits, formula-feeding mothers shared a bed in a
more variable manner with consequences for infant safety. Paternal bed-sharing
behavior introduced further variability. Epidemiological case-control studies examining
bed-sharing risks and benefits do not normally control for behavioral variables
that an evolutionary viewpoint would deem crucial. This study demonstrates
how parental behavior affects the bed-sharing experience and indicates that cases
and controls in epidemiological studies should be matched for behavioral, as well as
sociodemographic, variables.