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Durham University

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Prof Helen L. Ball, BSc, MA, PhD

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Member of the Sleep Lab

Contact Prof Helen L. Ball


Helen Ball is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the University's Parent-Infant Sleep Lab . She pioneers the study of infant sleep and the parent-infant sleep relationship from a biosocial perspective. She obtained her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992. Broadly defined, her research examines sleep ecology, particularly of infants, young children and their parents. This encompasses attitudes and practices regarding infant sleep, behavioural and physiological monitoring of infants and their parents during sleep, infant sleep development, and the discordance between cultural sleep preferences and biological sleep needs. She has conducted research in hospitals and the community, and contributes to national and international policy and practice guidelines on infant care. She pioneers the translation of academic research on infant sleep into evidence for use by parents and healthcare staff via ISIS -- the Infant Sleep Information Source website ( In 2013 Prof Ball received an award for Outstanding Impact in Society from the Economic and Social Research Council for her work on parent-infant sleep.

Queen's Anniversary Prize

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have presented the UK’s highest academic honour to Durham University for research that has helped to shape the way babies sleep and how parents care for them at night time.

At the awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace, similar to an investiture, the Royal couple awarded The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and Professor Helen Ball, Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, with the University’s Chancellor, Sir Thomas Allen, in attendance.

The prize has been awarded to Durham University for ‘leading influential research on parent-infant sleep with a widely-used public information service’. The awards, part of the national honours system in the UK, are approved by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister from recommendations made by the Royal Anniversary Trust’s Awards Council.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, commented: “We are hugely honoured to receive this prestigious award, which recognises the immensely valuable and wide-reaching impact of the research carried out by the team in the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab. At Durham, we aim to deliver research that is world-leading and world-changing and the work of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab is a perfect example of this commitment.”

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Research Projects

Department of Anthropology

School of Education

  • Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation

Research Interests

  • Integration of evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives on anthropology of infant sleep
  • How parents cope with infant-related sleep distruption
  • Development of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms
  • Human behaviour: parenting, infant care, infant mortality, SIDS, infanticide
  • Behaviour and physiology of infant sleep
  • Midwifery and postnatal care
  • Evolutionary medicine

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Ball, Helen L. (2019). Breastfeeding and infant sleep--what medical practitioners need to know. In A Guide to Supporting Breastfeeding for the Medical Profession. Brown, Amy & Jones, Wendy Routledge.
  • Tully, Kristin P. & Ball, Helen L. (2018). Understanding and enabling breastfeeding in the context of maternal-infant needs. In Breastfeeding: New Anthropological Approaches. Tomori, C., Palmquist, A.E.L. & Quinn, E.A. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 199-211.
  • Sullivan, S.S. & Ball H.L. (2017). Early Childhood Pediatric Sleep Concerns for Parents: Co-sleeping. In Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. Stein, John Elsevier.
  • Rudzik, Alanna E.F. & Ball, Helen L. (2016). Baby-Lag: Methods for assessing parental tiredness and fatigue. In Biological measures of human experience across the lifespan: making visible the invisible. Seivert, Lynette Leidy & Brown, Daniel E. Cham: Springer. 29-46.
  • Russell, Charlotte K., Volpe, Lane E. & Ball, Helen L. (2016). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In Evolutionary thinking in medicine: from research to policy and practice. Alvergne, A., Jenkinson, C. & Faurie, C. Cham: Springer. 61-74.
  • Taylor, Catherine E., Tully, Kristin P. & Ball, Helen L. (2015). Night-time on a postnatal ward: experiences of mothers, infants, and staff. In Ethnographic Research in Maternal and Child Health. Dykes, Fiona C. & Flacking, Renée Routledge. 117-140.
  • Jones, C. & Ball, H.L. (2012). Medical Anthropology and Children’s Sleep: The Mismatch between Western Lifestyles and Sleep Physiology. In Sleep: multi-professional perspectives. Green, A. & Westcombe, A.M. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 86-103.
  • Ball, H.L. & Russell, C.K. (2012). Night-time nurturing: an evolutionary perspective on breastfeeding and sleep. In Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy. Narváez, D., Panksepp, J., Schore, A. & Gleason, T. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 241-261.
  • Ball, H.L. (2008). Evolutionary Paediatrics: a case study in applying Darwinian Medicine. In Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects. Elton, S. & O'Higgins, P. New York: Taylor & Francis. 127-152.
  • Ball, H.L. & Klingaman, K.P. (2007). Breastfeeding and mother-infant sleep proximity: implications for infant care. In Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives. Trevathan, W., Smith, E.O. & McKenna, J.J. New York: Oxford University Press. 226-241.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2006). Night-time infant care: cultural practice, evolution, and infant development. In Childrearing and infant care issues: a cross-cultural perspective. Pranee Liamputtong Melbourne, Australia: Nova. 47-61.
  • Ball, Helen L. & Panter-Brick, C. (2001). Child survival and the modulation of parental investment. In Reproductive Ecology and Human Evolution. Ellison, P. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. 249-266.

Journal Article

  • Blair, Peter S., Ball, Helen L., McKenna, James J., Feldman-Winter, Lori, Marinelli, Kathleen A., Bartick, Melissa C. & and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee (2020). Bedsharing and Breastfeeding: The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol #6, Revision 2019. Breastfeeding Medicine 15(1): 5-16.
  • Barbir, Ivana, Ball, Helen & Zakarija‐Grković, Irena (2020). Parental knowledge of safe infant sleep and sudden infant death syndrome is inadequate in Croatia. Acta Paediatrica
  • Ball, Helen L. (2019). About Research: Conducting Online Surveys. Journal of Human Lactation 35(3): 413-417.
  • Marinelli, Kathleen A., Ball, Helen L., McKenna, James J. & Blair, Peter S. (2019). An Integrated Analysis of Maternal-Infant Sleep, Breastfeeding, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Research Supporting a Balanced Discourse. Journal of Human Lactation 35(3): 510.
  • Ball, H, Tomori, C & McKenna, J (2019). Toward an integrated anthropology of infant sleep. American Anthropologist 121(3): 595-612.
  • Bartick, Melissa, Tomori, Cecília & Ball, Helen L. (2018). Babies in boxes and the missing links on safe sleep: Human evolution and cultural revolution. Maternal & Child Nutrition 14(2): e12544.
  • Watson, Stuart, Ball, Helen , Lewis, Andrew & Galbally, Megan (2018). Breastfeeding, Antidepressants and Depression in the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Well-being Study. Journal of Human Lactation 35(1): 127-136.
  • Rudzik, Alanna E.F., Robinson-Smith, Lyn & Ball, Helen L. (2018). Discrepancies in maternal reports of infant sleep vs. actigraphy by mode of feeding. Sleep Medicine 49: 90-98.
  • Ball, Helen L., Douglas, Pamela S., Kulasinghe, Kavindri, Whittingham, Koa & Hill, Peter (2018). The Possums Infant Sleep Program: parents' perspectives on a novel parent-infant sleep intervention in Australia. Sleep Health 4(6): 519-526.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2017). Evolution-informed maternal-infant health. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1(3): 0073.
  • Robinson-Smith, Lyn & Ball, Helen L. (2017). Sleep and cognitive function in young children. The International Journal of Birth and Parent Education 5(1): 27-30.
  • Collings, P., Ball, H., Santorelli, G., West, J., Barber, S., McEachan, R. & Wright, J. (2017). Sleep duration and adiposity in early childhood: evidence for bidirectional associations from the Born in Bradford study. SLEEP 40(2): zsw054.
  • Ball, H. (2017). The Atlantic Divide: contrasting U.K. & U.S. recommendations on cosleeping and bed-sharing. Journal of Human Lactation 33(4): 765-769.
  • Crane, D. & Ball, H.L. (2016). A qualitative study in parental perceptions and understanding of SIDS-reduction guidance in a UK bi-cultural urban community. BMC Pediatrics 16: 23.
  • Ball, H., Howell, D., Bryant, A., Best, E., Russell, C. & Ward-Platt, M. (2016). Bed-sharing by breastfeeding mothers: who bed-shares, and what is the relationship with breastfeeding duration? Acta Paediatrica 105(6): 628-634.
  • Cronin-de-Chavez, Anna, Ball, Helen L. & Ward-Platt, Martin P. (2016). Bi-ethnic infant thermal care beliefs in Bradford, UK. International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare 9(2): 120-134.
  • Rudzik, Alanna E. & Ball, Helen L. (2016). Exploring maternal perceptions of infant sleep and feeding method among mothers in the United Kingdom: A qualitative focus group study. Maternal and Child Health Journal 20(1): 33-40.
  • Russell, Charlotte K. & Ball, Helen L. (2015). Bed-sharing, co-sleeping and parent education--a time for change. International Journal of Birth and Parenting Education 2(2): 19-20.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2015). Empowering families to make informed choices about sleep safety. British Journal of Midwifery 23(3): 164-165.
  • Volpe, Lane E. & Ball, Helen L. (2015). Infant sleep-related deaths: why do parents take risks? Archives of Disease in Childhood 100(7): 603-604
  • Fairley, Lesley, Santorelli, Gillian, Lawlor, Debbie A., Bryant, Maria, Bhopal, Raj, Petherick, Emily S., Sahota, Pinki, Greenwood, Darren C., Hill, Andrew J., Cameron, Noel, Ball, Helen L., Barber, Sally & Wright, John (2015). The relationship between early life modifiable risk factors for childhood obesity, ethnicity and body mass index at age 3 years: findings from the Born in Bradford birth cohort study. BMC Obesity 2(1): 9.
  • Russell, Charlotte K., Whitmore, Mary, Burrows, Dawn & Ball, Helen L. (2015). Where might my baby sleep? Design and evaluation of a novel discussion tool for parent education. International Journal of Birth and Parenting Education 2(2): 11-15.
  • Jones, Caroline HD, Pollard, Tessa M, Summerbell, CD & Ball, Helen L (2014). Could parental rules play a role in the association between short sleep and obesity in young children? Journal of Biosocial Science 46(3): 405-418.
  • Jones, Caroline H.D. & Ball, Helen L. (2014). Exploring socioeconomic differences in bedtime behaviours and sleep duration in English preschool children. Infant and Child Development 23(5): 518-531.
  • Tully, Kristin P. & Ball, Helen L. (2014). Maternal accounts of their breast-feeding intent and early challenges after caesarean childbirth. Midwifery 30(6): 712-719.
  • Ball, H.L. & Russell, C.K. (2014). SIDS & Infant Sleep Ecology. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 2014(1): 146.
  • Howel, Denise & Ball, Helen L. (2013). Association between Length of Exclusive Breastfeeding and Subsequent Breastfeeding Continuation. Journal of Human Lactation 29(4): 579-585.
  • Tully, K.P. & Ball, H.L. (2013). Misrecognition of need women's experiences of and explanations for undergoing cesarean delivery. Social science and medicine 85: 103-111.
  • Jones, C. & Ball, H.L. (2013). Napping in English preschool children and the association with parents’ attitudes. Sleep Medicine 14(4): 352–358.
  • Volpe, L.E., Ball, H.L. & McKenna, J.J. (2013). Nighttime parenting strategies and sleep-related risks to infants. Social Science & Medicine 79: 92-100.
  • Ball, H.L. & Volpe, L.E. (2013). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) risk reduction and infant sleep location: Moving the discussion forward. Social Science & Medicine 79: 84-91.
  • Ball, H.L. (2013). Supporting parents who are worried about their newborn’s sleep. British medical journal 346: f2344.
  • Tully, K.P. & Ball, H.L. (2013). Trade-offs underlying maternal breastfeeding decisions: a conceptual model. Maternal & Child Nutrition 9(1): 90-98.
  • Ball, H.L., Moya, E. Fairley, L., Westman, J., Oddie, S. & Wright, J. (2012). Bed and sofa-sharing practices in a UK biethnic population. Pediatrics 129(3): e673-e681.
  • Ball, H.L., Moya, E., Fairley, L., Westman, J., Oddie, S. & Wright, J. (2012). Infant care practices related to sudden infants death syndrome in South Asian and White British families in the UK. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 26(1): 3-12.
  • Tully, K.P. & Ball, H.L. (2012). Postnatal Unit Bassinet Types When Rooming-In After Cesarean Section Birth: Implications for Breastfeeding and Infant Safety. Journal of Human Lactation 28(4): 495-505.
  • Russell, C.K., Howel, D., Ward-Platt, M.P. & Ball, H.L. (2012). Use of interactive telephone technology for longitudinal data collection in a large trial. Contemporary Clinical Trials 33: 364-368.
  • Ball, H.L., Ward-Platt, M.P. Howel, D. & Russell, C.K. (2011). Randomised trial of sidecar crib use on breastfeeding duration (NECOT). Archives of Disease in Childhood 96(7): 630-634.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2007). Bed-sharing practices of initially breastfed infants in the first 6 months of life. Infant and Child Development 16(4): 387-401.
  • McKenna, James J., Ball, Helen L. & Gettler, Lee T. (2007). Mother–Infant Cosleeping, Breastfeeding and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What Biological Anthropology Has Discovered About Normal Infant Sleep and Pediatric Sleep Medicine. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134(S45): 133-161.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2007). Together or apart? A behavioural and physiological investigation of sleeping arrangements for twin babies. Midwifery 23(4): 404-412.
  • Ball, H.L. (2006). Bed-sharing on the post-natal ward: breastfeeding and infant sleep safety. Paediatrics and Child Health 11(Suppl A): 43A-46A.
  • Ball, Helen L. (2006). Caring for twin infants: sleeping arrangements and their implications. Evidence Based Midwifery 4(1): 10-16.
  • 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.
  • Ball, H.L., Ward-Platt, M.P., Heslop, E., Leech, S.J. & Brown, K.A. (2006). Randomised trial of infant sleep location on the postnatal ward. Archives of Disease in Childhood 91(12): 1005-1010.
  • Blair, P.S. & Ball, H.L. (2004). The prevalence and characteristics associated with parent–infant bed-sharing in England. Archives of Disease in Childhood 89: 1106-1110.
  • Ball, H.L. (2003). Breastfeeding, bed-sharing and infant sleep. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care 30(3): 181-188.
  • Ball, H., Hooker, E. & Kelly, P.J. (2000). Parent-Infant Cosleeping: fathers' roles and perspectives. Infant and Child Development 9(2): 67-74.
  • Hooker, E., Ball, H.L. & Kelly, P.J. (2000). Sleeping like a baby: parent-infant cosleeping in North Tees, England. Medical Anthropology 19: 203-222.
  • Ball, H.L., Hooker, E. & Kelly, P.J. (1999). Where will the baby sleep? Attitudes and practices of new and experienced parents regarding cosleeping with their new-born infants. American Anthropologist 101(1): 143-151.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Ball, Helen L. (2018). The Infant Sleep Myth. Society Now (30): 18-19.

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Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Subject specialists: Evolutionary paediatrics
  • Medical and health research topics: Breastfeeding
  • Human biology and development: Infant care practices
  • Infant and child health: