Breastfeeding, Bed-Sharing, and Infant Sleep


  • Helen L. Ball PhD MA BSc

    1. Helen Ball is at the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab & Infant and Child Research Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom.
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  • This research was funded by a grant number 227 from the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, London, United Kingdom.

Helen Ball, Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, 43 Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3HN, United Kingdom.


Abstract:  Background:  Expectations for infant sleep development and for the appropriate degree of parental proximity for infant sleep are culturally weighted and historically shifting aspects of parenting behavior, and are known to affect breastfeeding prevalence and duration. This paper examined how new parents managed night-time feeding in the first 4 months, with a particular focus on the relationship between breastfeeding, infant sleep location, and sleep bout duration.

Methods:  Sleep logs and semistructured interviews were used with a sample of 253 families in North Tees, United Kingdom, to explore how parents responded to their infant's sleep patterns, how breastfeeding parents managed night-time feeding, and whether bed-sharing was a common strategy.

Results:  A clear relationship between breastfeeding and parent-infant bed-sharing was demonstrated. Some evidence indicated that bed-sharing may promote breastfeeding.

Conclusions:  An understanding of the role of infant feeding practice on infant sleep and parental caregiving at night is a crucial element in breastfeeding promotion and enhancement of infant health. Health professionals should discuss safe bed-sharing practices with all parents. (BIRTH 30:3 September 2003)