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Durham University

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Night-time infant care in North-East England

A research project of the Department of Anthropology, part of the Medical Anthropology research group.


This study investigated parental strategies for the night-time care of infants, with particular focus upon parent-infant bed-sharing. An evolutionarily informed perspective on parent-infant sleep contact challenges recommendations regarding appropriate parent-infant sleep practices based on large epidemiological studies.


The project is funded by the following grants.

  • R170191: Parent-Infant Sleep Strategies, Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths, £59004.00, 1998-05-01 - 2000-04-30
  • R170194: Fellowship -- Dr HL Ball, The Leverhulme Trust, £4532.00, 2000-09-01 - 2001-03-31
  • The Role Of Parents (£4950.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)


Using sleep logs, face-to-face interviews, night-time video-recording and small-group discussions we generated baseline information on the general night-time practises of a representative sample of 253 families with infants in the North Tees Health District.


In 70% of the families studied, the infant bed-shared with one or both of its parents at least once by 3 months of age. Sixty-seven percent of babies slept in the same bed as their parents at least once in their 1st month (mean age = 17 days), and typically they slept with both parents (triadic bed-sharing). Two-thirds of all breast-feeders were bed-sharers, while almost three-quarters (73%) of formula fed babies never bed-shared with their parents between birth and 4 months of age.

Published Results

Other (Print)

  • Ball, H.L., Blair, P.S. & Ward-Platt, M.P. (2004). 'New' practice of bedsharing and risk of SIDS (letter). Lancet 363(9420): 1558.

Journal Article

  • 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, 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.
  • Wailoo, M., Ball, H.L., Fleming, P.J. & Ward-Platt, M.P. (2004). Infants bed-sharing with mothers: helpful, harmful or don't we know? Archives of Disease in Childhood 89(12): 1082-1083.
  • 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.L. (2002). Reasons to bed-share: why parents sleep with their infants. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 20(4): 207-222.
  • 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., Hooker, E. & Kelly, P.J. (2000). Parent-Infant Cosleeping: fathers' roles and perspectives. Infant and Child Development 9(2): 67-74.
  • 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.

Chapter in book

  • Ball, H.L. (2000). Babies and Infants Bed-Sharing. In Midwifery Practice in the Post-natal Period. Royal College of Midwives Royal College of Midwifes. 24-26.


From the Department of Anthropology

From other departments

Related links

Further information

For further information, please contact Prof Helen L. Ball.