We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre

What happens when parents and infants bed-share?

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 behaviour. Ten formula-feeding and ten breastfeeding families were filmed for 3 nights (adjustment, dyadic and triadic nights) for 8 hours per night. For breastfed 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 behaviour, but significant differences were found between formula and breastfed infants. While breastfeeding mothers bed-shared with their infants in a characteristic manner that provided several safety benefits, formula-feeding mothers bed-shared in a more variable manner with consequences for infant safety. Paternal bed-sharing behaviour introduced further variability. Epidemiological case-control studies examining bed-sharing risks and benefits do not normally control for behavioural variables that an evolutionary viewpoint would deem crucial. This study demonstrates how parental behaviour affects the bed-sharing experience and indicates that cases and controls in epidemiological studies should be matched for behavioural, as well as socio-demographic, variables.