An anthropologist with 18 years experience in breastfeeding, infant sleep and SIDS, Helen makes the research evidence accessible to clinicians, midwives, lactation professionals, policy-makers, peer supporters and parents. Using her own and other published studies she offers engaging and informative sessions, full of practical examples in home and hospital settings. As an active researcher Helen has a wealth of knowledge of current evidence and policy and is happy to serve on expert discussant panels or do informal Q&A sessions with for parents or professionals. Helen created and runs ISIS: the Infant Sleep Info Source (www.isisonline.org.uk) — a free resource providing evidence-based information to parents and health care staff about normal infant sleep and is excited to share this work with groups who may wish to use it.
Helen Ball is Professor of Anthropology at Durham University, England, where she runs the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab. She has published widely on infant sleep, breastfeeding, bed-sharing, SIDS-risks, and postnatal care. She works with UK hospitals, breastfeeding and parenting organisations on infant sleep safety, feeding interventions and is involved in local and national policy development. She is a member of LLLGB’s Panel of Professional Advisors, NCT’s Research Advisory Group, and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Human Lactation.
Helen Ball obtained her PhD in Biological Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1991, beginning her academic career as a primatologist. After being appointed at Durham University in 1993 Helen developed a research focus in the observation of human mothers and infants and began exploring what happened to babies at night. Helen’s current research involves behavioural and physiological investigations of infant, child and adult sleep (or lack of it). Now Professor of Anthropology at Durham, Helen runs the ‘Parent-Infant Sleep Lab’, supervises a team of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, and conducts research in various local hospitals and the community. She contributes to national and international guidelines on infant sleep and bed-sharing and has worked with numerous UK hospitals, the UK Department of Health, the Royal College of Midwives, and UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative on the development of guidance and policy documents. She serves on the Research Advisory Board of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the Panel of Professional Advisors for La Leche League GB. She serves as Consulting Editor for the Journal of Human Lactation and her latest project involves development of ISIS, an online information source on infant sleep for parents and health professionals.
This talk examines how SIDS risk reduction messages are generated, disseminated, and how they are received by parents. Using examples from research around the world, and her own research such as the Bradford Infant Care Study (BradICS) Professor Ball discusses how parents understand SIDS risk-reduction and what affects whether messages are implemented or rejected in different communities and cultural groups. She argues that failure to understand local parenting beliefs and cultural practices results in ineffective campaigns that fail to engage the recipients. In developing effective interventions she argues that we must step all the way back to the research upon which SIDS-risks are identified and ascertain how culture and ethnicity affects the magnitude and prevalence of each risk. Qualitative studies are particularly important in understanding local infant care traditions and beliefs that become barriers to implementation of safe sleep messaging. Recognition and exploration of these issues can then lead to tailored guidance that is relevant for families in each community.
This talk begins by discussing authoritative vs. negotiated models for health promotion, and then explores educational approaches to safe infant sleep, encourages negotiated decision-making, and introduces tools for use in educational safe sleep intervention. Professor Ball draws upon her UK experience of creating sleep education resources such as ISIS (Infant Sleep Information Source) an internet-based source for infant sleep research, and ‘Where will my baby sleep?, an interactive tool for promoting parent and health-care provider conversations about safe sleep issues. She discusses the research literature available on educational interventions and presents examples from different locations worldwide.
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, causing parents of new babies to struggle with the problems of interrupted sleep, particularly when contemporary lifestyles, parental sleep needs, and infant biology conflict. This presentation provides an up-to-date review of the research evidence regarding 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; what we tell parents about normal infant sleep, and how we provide support, requires reframing. The latest research on the effect of infant feeding on sleep pattern development from Durham University’s parent-infant sleep lab will be shared.
Negotiating the relationship between infant feeding and sleeping is a minefield for new parents with claims and counter-claims about how, where, when and with whom infants should or should not sleep. New research articles appear almost weekly supporting apparently contradictory positions, while many studies regarding infant sleep fail to take the particular needs of breastfeeding mothers and infants into account. This talk will compare human babies with those of other mammals and think about the ways in which biology leads to different caregiving needs and styles. Using the research we have conducted at Durham Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, and that of other infant sleep researchers, we will consider what we know about parental attitudes and practices regarding night-time infant care, and practical issues such as night-time feeding, sleep training, and sleep safety.
The notion that infant sleep environments are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that parents who receive appropriate instruction will modify their infant-care habits has been fundamental to SIDS reduction campaigns. However infant sleep location recommendations have failed to emulate the previously successful infant sleep position campaigns that dramatically reduced infant deaths. This talk considers the perceived conflict between ‘safeguarding’ and ‘well-being’, contradictory messages, and rejected advice regarding infant sleep location. We will explore the argument that bed-sharing is not a modifiable infant-care practice that can be influenced by risk-education and simple recommendations, and how failure to recognize the importance of infant sleep location in cultural and personal parenting beliefs has led to inappropriate and ineffective risk-reduction messages. We will therefore consider how to reorient discussion around infant sleep location.