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Department of Anthropology: Parent-Infant Sleep Lab

Infant sleep location on the postnatal ward

RCT of mother-infant sleep proximity on the post-natal ward: an experiment in evolutionary medicine

Dr Helen Ball, Parent-Infant Sleep Lab & MARG, Department of Anthropology, Durham University & Dr Martin Ward-Platt, Newcastle Neonatal Service, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne

Evolutionary medicine examines the incompatibility between the lifestyles and environments in which humans currently live, and the conditions under which human biology evolved. In a paediatric context it aims to apply an evolutionary understanding of infant development and care-giving practices to the amelioration of iatrogenic effects of bio-medically driven changes in infant care, and the discordance between parental care-giving instincts and culturally sanctioned practice in post-industrial societies. This study (funded by Babes in Arms) was an experiment in evolutionary medicine. We hypothesised that, despite recent alterations in maternity care practices, a proportion of breastfeeding failure remains a consequence of the restrictions imposed by the hospital environment. Our objective was to determine whether the introduction on unhindered mother-infant sleep contact on the 1st 2 nights of an infant’s life affects breastfeeding initiation and infant safety. The study design was a randomised non-blinded trial analysed by intention to treat, and was conducted on the postnatal ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Sixty-four newly delivered mother-infant pairs with a prenatal intention to breastfeed participated; Inclusion criteria stipulated vaginal deliveries without the use of IM or IV opiate analgesics in the preceding 24 hours and that all mothers and infants were healthy. Mother-infant pairs were randomly allocated to one of 3 sleep conditions: Baby in bed with mother using standard cot-side; baby in side-car crib attached to mother’s bed; standard rooming-in with baby in stand-alone cot adjacent to mother’s bed. Video-recordings were made of the 1st 2 postnatal nights. The main outcome measures were observed breastfeeding frequency and potential risk to infants.

Results: During 4-hour-long observation periods commencing 2 hours after each mother settled down for sleep, bed and crib mothers and infants breastfed more frequently than cot mothers and infants [median difference (95% CI): bed vs. cot =2.56 (0.72-4.41); crib vs. cot=2.52 (0.87-4.17); bed vs. crib (0.04 (-2.10-2.18)]. No infants were observed to experience any hazards, however bed infants were observed in more situations exhibiting potential risk than crib or cot infants [median difference (95% CI): bed vs. cot 0.13 (0.03-0.23); crib vs. cot 0.04 (-0.03-0.12); bed vs. crib (-0.03-0.21)]. No differences were observed in duration of maternal or infant sleep, frequency of visits and duration of assistance provided by staff; or in maternal rating of overall satisfaction with the post-natal experience.

Conclusion: Sleeping newborn babies in close proximity to their mothers on the post-natal ward (bedding-in) facilitates breastfeeding initiation in comparison with rooming-in. None of the 3 sleep conditions was associated with actual infant risk; although infrequent, more potential risk events occurred in the bed-group. The use of side-car cribs for bedding-in on the post-natal ward is an effective means of providing unhindered mother-infant sleep contact—simultaneously enhancing breastfeeding initiation and preserving infant safety.