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What is ‘Normal Infant Sleep’: the view from anthropology.

11th November 2020 18.00-19.00

About this event

Coping with sleep disruption is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting a new baby, and one for which first-time parents are often poorly prepared. Anticipation during pregnancy of a baby who loves to sleep in his/her carefully prepared crib is rarely borne out by reality, and unrealistic expectations are reinforced by well-wishers: even complete strangers take an avid interest in whether new babies they encounter are 'good' and sleep 'through the night'. Our cultural obsession with the sleep of babies means that sooner or later most new parents wonder whether their infant’s sleep patterns are ‘normal’, what they could or should be doing differently, and whether something they are not doing would help their baby to fall asleep more quickly, to sleep for longer, or more deeply. And if their baby's sleep behaviour fails to meet social expectations parents begin to question whether their baby has a ‘sleep problem’ - even though there is a huge range of variation in infant sleep and most babies fall well within the normal range. Once the notion that a baby has a 'sleep problem' that the parents must fix--or worse, is being 'naughty' and wilfully refusing to sleep--enters the picture, night-time becomes a battle-ground with parents pitting the pursuit for a 'decent night's sleep’ against their babies' biological needs for contact, comfort and regular night-time feeds. In this talk Professor Helen Ball will draw on her 25 years of research into parent-baby sleep at Durham University to explore the mismatch between biologically normal infant sleep, socio-historical norms of infant sleep, and statistically normal patterns of infant sleep to explain why parents struggle with this fundamental aspect of infant care, and what we - their families, friends and society -can do to help them.  

Websites: Baby Sleep Info Source:

Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre:

Twitter: @BasisOnline1 


Welcome to the 2020 Festival of Social Science

This website is an archived version of the 2020 festival, visit the main website for this years events