Intended for healthcare professionals


Supporting parents who are worried about their newborn’s sleep

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 15 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2344
  1. Helen L Ball, professor of anthropology
  1. 1Parent-Infant Sleep Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  1. H.L.Ball{at}

Clinicians can help to reframe expectations of “normal” and support parents to develop coping strategies

Parents of new babies often struggle with the problems of interrupted sleep, particularly when contemporary lifestyles, parental sleep needs, and infant biology conflict.1 Recent trends in Western infant care have led to misperceptions of normal infant sleep development. When we ask whether a young baby “sleeps through the night” this reinforces the idea that prolonged infant sleep is important and should be achieved early. It also does not recognise the role of night feeding in successful breast feeding because breastfed babies wake more often during the night than those who are not breast fed.2 Consequently, what we tell parents about normal infant sleep, and how we provide support, requires reframing.

In a linked paper (doi:10.1136/bmj.f1164),3 Stremler and colleagues highlight that parental sleep disturbance can be profound in the early months of infant life and the associated prolonged lack of sleep may have negative consequences for parental health and wellbeing. This can be exacerbated if, in the transition to parenthood, expectations fail to match reality. When this occurs, new parents may doubt their own …

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