An Integrated Analysis of Maternal-Infant Sleep, Breastfeeding, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Research Supporting a Balanced Discourse

Kathleen A. Marinelli*, Helen L. Ball, James J. McKenna, Peter S. Blair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
538 Downloads (Pure)


Breastfeeding and the place of sleep for the mother and the infant have been controversial internationally due to reported concerns regarding infant deaths despite the known benefits of exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding, which are increased by breastfeeding at night. The aims of this integrated analysis were to (a) review breastfeeding and maternal and infant sleep research literature via historical, epidemiological, anthropological, and methodological lenses; (b) use this information to determine where we are currently in safeguarding both infant lives and breastfeeding; and (c) postulate the direction that research might take from this point forward to improve our knowledge and inform our policy and practice. Despite well-meaning but unsuccessful campaigns in some countries to dissuade parents from sleeping with their babies, many breastfeeding mothers and caregivers do sleep with their infants whether intentionally or unintentionally. Taking cultural contexts and socio-ecological circumstances into consideration, data supports policies to counsel parents and caregivers on safe sleep practices, including bed-sharing in non-hazardous circumstances, particularly in the absence of parental smoking, recent parental alcohol consumption, or sleeping next to an adult on a sofa. Further research with appropriate methodology is needed to drill down on actual rates of infant deaths, paying close attention to the definitions of deaths, the circumstances of the deaths, and confounding factors, in order to ensure we have the best information with which to derive public health policy. Introduction and use of the concept of "breastsleeping" is a plausible way to remove the negative connotations of "co-sleeping" and redirect ongoing data-driven discussions and education of best practices of breastfeeding and sleep.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-520
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Lactation
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • bed-sharing
  • breastfeeding
  • co-sleeping
  • epidemiological methods
  • infant behavior
  • lactation
  • maternal behavior
  • mother-infant dyad

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