Biologically normal sleep in the mother-infant dyad

Am J Hum Biol. 2021 Sep;33(5):e23589. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23589. Epub 2021 Mar 17.

Abstract

Objectives: We examine infant sleep from evolutionary, historico-cultural, and statistical/epidemiological perspectives and explore the distinct conceptions of "normal" produced by each. We use data from the "Sleeping Like a Baby" study to illustrate how these perspectives influence the ideals and practices of new parents.

Methods: The "Sleeping Like a Baby" study investigated maternal-infant sleep in north-east England. Sleep data for exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) and formula-feeding (EFF) dyads were captured every 2 weeks from 4 to 18 weeks postpartum through actigraphy and maternal report. Mothers also reported their infant sleep ideals and practices. Results explore objective and maternally-reported infant sleep parameters, and concordance of maternal ideals and practices with public health guidance.

Results: Comparison of sleep measures showed that mothers overestimate infant sleep duration compared with actigraphy; EFF mothers' reports were significantly more inaccurate than those of EBF mothers. For infants moved to a separate bedroom, maternally-reported sleep increases were not borne out by actigraphy. Across the study period, concordance of maternal ideal sleep location with public health recommendations occurred on average for 54% of mothers, while concordance in practice fell from 75% at 4-8 weeks to 67% at 14-18 weeks. Discordance for EBF dyads occurred due to bedsharing, and for EFF dyads due to infants sleeping in a room alone.

Conclusions: Beliefs about "normal" infant sleep influence parents' perceptions and practices. Clinical and scientific infant sleep discourses reinforce dominant societal norms and perpetuate these beliefs, but biological and evolutionary views on infant sleep norms are beginning to gain traction with parents and health practitioners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data*
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep*