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Keywords:

  • co-sleeping;
  • cultural group;
  • discourse analysis;
  • infant care practice;
  • sudden and unexpected death in infancy;
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Aim:  To explore socio-cultural influences on migrant mother decisions and beliefs regarding co-sleeping as a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Methods:  Semi-structured interviews with five Indian-born women in a socio-economically disadvantaged suburb in the south-west of Sydney were conducted between September and December 2007. Transcripts were analysed using principles of discourse analysis.

Results:  Discourse analysis revealed that SIDS-related decisions and beliefs about co-sleeping as a risk factor for SIDS are constructed amid competing discourses of motherhood and child health. Mothers are either actively or unconsciously deciding how they negotiate or resist dominant Western discourses of motherhood and child health to make ‘the best’ health-related decisions for their children. Participants resisted acknowledging child sleep practices recommended by health practitioners, particularly recommendations to put to sleep the baby in its own cot. This resistance was expressed by constructing messages as ‘inapplicable’ and ‘inappropriate’. Co-sleeping was constructed as a highly valued practice for its physical and social benefits to the child, mother and family by facilitating child security, breastfeeding, bonding and family connectedness.

Conclusion:  This study illustrates how decisions and behaviour are shaped by socio-cultural influences embedded in discourses and context. It also shows that in-depth investigation through a social constructivist lens is particularly useful for investigating influences on knowledge acquisition, interpretation and implementation among migrant groups. A greater appreciation of the social meanings and ideologies attached to behaviours can help to ensure that the correct messages reach the correct populations, and that child health outcomes can be achieved and maintained both for overseas and Australian-born populations.