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Durham University

Durham University News


Keeping sleeping babies safe

(27 November 2020)

Is he a good sleeper? Does she sleep through the night yet? These are common questions new parents are asked about their babies.

What is classed as normal infant sleep is an area of expertise for our researchers in the Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre (DISC).

Drawing on 25 years of research into parent-baby sleep, a recent public talk about the topic from leading expert, Professor Helen Ball, has attracted almost 15,000 views online.

Global impact

Our researchers examine various aspects of baby and child sleep as well as parenting behaviour, with the ultimate aim of keeping babies safe when they sleep. Areas include feeding practices, temperature control, sleep safety, twin sleep behaviour and postnatal ward environments.

The centre’s work with more than 5,000 parents and babies during the last 25 years has substantially increased parents’ understanding of babies’ sleep, how best to care for babies during the night, and how best to keep them safe when asleep.

The research, and our Baby Sleep Info Source (Basis), are cited widely in policy, support official guidance and recommendations to parents, and are shared informally by support groups, charities, and parents around the world. This influence has earned the team the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education.

Along with the work of partner organisations, our evidence-based advice for health professionals and parents has also helped to reduce the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Caring for babies

Research studies are conducted in people’s homes, in hospitals and in Durham University’s own sleep lab where parents and babies can be observed during the night with cameras and via breathing, heart rate and temperature monitors.

Starting off with a very small local study 25 years ago, the Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre has grown into one of the leading research centres for parent-infant sleep in the world. Its evidence-based approach plays a key role in informing parents and health professionals about how best to care for babies and how to keep them safe, making a real and practical difference to society.

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