The Science of Mother-Infant Sleep

The Science of Mother-Infant Sleep
Photo © Praeclarus Press

The book The Science of Mother-Infant Sleep needs to be on the bookshelf of every person who works with moms and babies. For as long as there have been mothers and children, bedsharing and cosleeping have occurred. Recently, these practices have come under scrutiny and mothers are often given advice that does not reflect current research. In fact, mothers are often downright lied to and scared in order to attempt to dissuade these practices.

This book provides the practitioner, doula, childbirth educator and lactation consultant evidence-based practice to provide families with accurate information regarding safe sleep for their infants.

The first section of the book consists of five chapters dealing with safe infant sleep. Kendall-Tackett describes marketing campaigns designed to keep mothers and babies from sharing sleep. There is a look into previous and current statements made on cosleeping by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The next chapter is all about research about bedsharing and discusses in-depth research on SIDS. Finally, they discuss the impacts of both cosleeping and avoiding cosleeping on different maternal behaviors (including breastfeeding) and states.

The second section focuses on the impacts of Sleep Training and Cry-It-Out Techniques. Kendall-Tackett and Middlemiss make no qualms about sharing evidence that cry-it-out is unhealthy for babies.

While many popular parenting books encourage mothers to put themselves first by allowing their babies to cry, this book encourages mothers that it is truly scientifically best for mother and baby to avoid these practices. There is discussion of instinct but more importantly, there is solid evidence presented that cry-it-out causes excessive stress for the newborn that has lifelong implications for children and adults.

The third section deals with working with parents around sleep issues. I liked this section because having previously presented solid evidence for practices that we know to be beneficial to families, this section helps the reader understand how to put this into practice. Tired parents are always going to have to make difficult decisions regarding infant sleep. Many mothers view nighttime waking and babies’ desire to be near caregivers as a problem. This section gives tools to the reader for how to discuss the normalcy and importance of nighttime parenting. Especially for breastfeeding mothers, this part of the book can be very affirming to their natural maternal instincts. The book ends with a chapter on Simple Ways to Calm a Crying Baby. Giving parents concrete tools deal with night waking helps affirm the normalcy of the situation and helps parents continue to provide the best care to their children.

What I loved most about this book was that for every article, there are citations galore. If you need more information on a particular topic, just go to the end of the chapter and find the references listed. Often mothers think of sleep as a parenting decision, made on opinion only. This book provides us as birth workers the evidence that safe cosleeping, bedsharing, and nighttime parenting are evidence-based practices.

This book is not written for parents – I think it would be too heavy for already overwhelmed mothers and fathers. (Good books for that audience would include La Leche League’s Book “Sweet Sleep” and James McKenna’s “Sleeping With Your Baby.”) Reading through this book and offering a copy to the practitioners in your circle will only help strengthen the support and encouragement provided to the families with whom you work.

This book was edited by Wendy Middlemiss, Ph.D. and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA.

See also: Books to Help Baby Sleep