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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

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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

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

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: National Institute for Health & Care Excellence: Topic specific member for Clinical Guidance Update: Postnatal Care -- Cosleeping and SIDS (CG37).
  • 2013: ESRC Celebrating Impact Award: Award for Outstanding Impact in the Community from Economic and Social Research Council.
  • 2011: Appointed Consulting Editor, Journal of Human Lactation:
  • 2011: Appointed to Editorial Board, Journal of Human Lactation:
  • 2011: Durham University Award for Excellence in Doctoral Supervision:
  • 2011: Invited Speaker: UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Conference:
  • 2010: Appointed to ESRC Peer Review College:
  • 2010: Invited Keynote Speaker: International Lactation Consultants' Association (ILCA):
  • 2010: Invited Speaker: UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Conference:
  • 2009: Appointed to Advisory Board of Attachment Parenting EU:
  • 2009: Appointed to La Leche League Panel of Professional Advisers:
  • 2009: Appointed to NCT Research Advisory Board:
  • 2009: Invited Keynote Speaker: New Zealand Lactation Consultants' Association:
  • 2007: Invited Keynote Speaker: Australian National Breastfeeding Conference:
  • 2007: Invited keynote speaker: French Academy of Paediatrics: St Malo, June, 2007
  • 2006: Healthy Children Award (US) for Research: Award for contribution to breastfeeding research from Healthy Children (US), presented Jan 15th 2006, Orlando, Florida
  • 2006: Invited speaker, Primary Care Conference 2006: Invited speaker: Mother & Baby Programme of Primary Care 2006 Conference for GPs and Health Professionals at NEC, Birmingham, 5th May 2006.
  • 2006: Invited speaker: UNICEF UK Baby-friendly Conference 2006: Invited speaker at UNICEF UK BFI Annual Conference, Cardiff, November 29th & 29th 2006
  • 2005: Invited Keynote Speaker: La Leche League Italia National Conference:

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

Show all publications

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:


Selected Grants

  • 2017: RI170013: Coping with Infant Sleep, ESRC £21959.00, 2017-06-15 - 2018-12-15
  • 2016: Baby Bed Box Project - Let's Talk About Infant Sleep (£63500.00 from The Scottish Government)
  • 2016: Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation (£78207.00 from Education Endowment Foundation)
  • 2015: A New Approach for Improving Infant Sleep-Sharing Safety: a feasibility study (£36787.00 from The Lullaby Trust)
  • 2014: FP7-COFUND-DIFeREns2 - Anthropology (£116085.20 from European Commission)
  • 2011: Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS) Project (£96087.00 from ESRC)
  • 2016: Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation (£11357.00 from Education Endowment Foundation)
  • 2014: Exploring the experiences of families living in fuel poverty and its impact on children's educational outcomes (£304.00 from Chesshire Lehmann Fund)
  • 2008: RF170040: Bradford Infant Care Study (BradICS), Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths, £78554, 2008-09-01 - 2010-08-31
  • 2007: KTP - REDCAR & CLEVELAND PCT (£114416.00 from Redcar & Cleveland PCT)
  • 2007: RF170028: NIHR Research for the Patient Benefit Programme: NECOT Trial, £263,104, 2007-11-01 - 2011-09-30
  • 2003: IMPACT OF BEDDING-IN ON BREASTFEEDING RATES (£1240.00 from The Wellcome Trust)
  • 2003: NEW DATA COLLECTION METHODOLOGY (£5825.62 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2003: THE ROLE OF PARENTS (£4950.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2002: BEDDING-IN ON THE POSTNATAL WARD (£144558.00 from Babes in Arms)
  • 2001: R170208: Bedding-in on the postnatal ward (Pilot Study), Community Foundation, £2710.00, 2001-06-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 2000: Co-bedding in twins (£70358.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2000: R170194: Fellowship -- Dr HL Ball, The Leverhulme Trust, £4532.00, 2000-09-01 - 2001-03-31
  • 1999: R170155: Risks to infants of sharing the parental bed, Scottish Cot Death Trust, £64607.00, 1999-10-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 1999: R170193: Internship-MS CHI THAI, The Wellcome Trust, £1080.00, 1999-06-14 - 1999-08-13
  • 1999: R170196: Internship-MS L GOODHALL, The Nuffield Foundation, £1400.00, 1999-10-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 1998: R170191: Parent-Infant Sleep Strategies, Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths, £59004.00, 1998-05-01 - 2000-04-30

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