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Durham University

Research & business

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Parent-Infant Sleep Ecology & Behaviour

A research project of the Department of Anthropology.


An evolutionarily informed perspective on parent-infant sleep contact challenges recommendations regarding appropriate parent-infant sleep practices based on large epidemiological studies.


To explore similarities and differences in night-time care-giving an.d sleep related behaviours between breast and bottle feeding families and between dyadic and triadic bed-sharing


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 nighs (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.


Ball (2006) Parent-Infant Bed-sharing Behaviour: effects of feeding type, and presence of father Human Nature: an interdisciplinary biosocial perspective 17(3): 301-318

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