GOLD Perinatal Care Conference News

The topic of sleep (their own and their babies’) looms large for new parents – and sleep disturbance is a topic that health professionals are asked about often in the perinatal period. It is tempting to give ‘stock’ answers to these questions with little thought or to answer based on personal experience; however such responses can have negative and sometimes far-reaching consequences. How often, for instance, are new parents asked whether their baby is ‘sleeping through the night yet’? Or even worse, asked if they have a ‘good baby’ – often code for ‘a baby who sleeps well and does not disturb his/her parents’. Such questions are varyingly irritating, worrying and distressing to new parents as they imply that ‘sleeping through’ from an early age is important, and there is either something wrong with their baby, or with their ability as parents, if a baby is not conforming to expectations. But what if the expectations themselves are false – or based on out-dated information? Are we perpetuating and reinforcing myths about sleep development and infant sleep needs that cause parents to undertake sleep training regimes at an inappropriately early age, or set up expectations about sleep that exacerbate postnatal depression?

Research into infant and parental sleep and related areas such as SIDS, postnatal depression and infant feeding is prolific, and the evidence produced can often seem contradictory. Health professionals therefore need regular updates about the latest thinking on topics such as the pros and cons of sleep training, whether changing a baby’s diet is a an effective method for influencing sleep duration and night waking, and whether parent-infant sleep sharing is dangerous or beneficial in early infancy. In the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University (UK) we regularly read and discuss the latest research on these topics to inform our own research and publications. Four years ago I had the bright idea of turning our in-house summaries into a website that would provide a source of evidence-based digests and signposts to the key research that health professionals could access to help keep up-to-date and inform their work with parents. Thus the Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS) was born, and after securing funding and a crash course in website development the ISIS website was launched in April 2012 ( as a free resource for all. In my talk for GOLD Perinatal I will give you an introduction to some of the fascinating research evidence on infant and parent sleep that we have recently collated for the ISIS website, and highlight some of the latest studies to question ‘received wisdom’. I am looking forward to some lively discussion in the forums afterwards!

Helen Ball

Professor Helen Ball, Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, Anthropology Department, Durham University, UK

*Note that Prof. Helen Ball is the Keynote Speaker for our upcoming conference. Her presentation will be streamed twice on Oct 14, live and for free! Reserve your spot by clicking here.