To examine two hypotheses about the longitudinal relationship between night-time parenting behaviours in the first few postnatal weeks and infant night-time sleep-waking at five weeks, three months and six months of age in normal London home environments.
Most western infants develop long night-time sleep periods by four months of age. However, around 20–30% of infants in many countries continue to sleep for short periods and cry out on waking in the night: the most common type of infant sleep behaviour problem. Preventive interventions may help families and improve services. There is evidence that ‘limit-setting’ parenting, which is common in western cultures, supports the development of settled infant night-time behaviour. However, this evidence has been challenged. The present study measures three components of limit-setting parenting (response delay, feeding interval, settling method), examines their stability, and assesses the predictive relationship between each of them and infant sleep-waking behaviours.
Longitudinal observations comparing a General-Community (n=101) group and subgroups with a Bed-Sharing (n=19) group on infra-red video, diary and questionnaire measures of parenting behaviours and infant feeding and sleep-waking at night.
Bed-Sharing parenting was highly infant-cued and stable. General-Community parenting involved more limit-setting, but was less stable, than Bed-Sharing parenting. One element of General-Community parenting – consistently introducing a short interval before feeding – was associated with the development of longer infant night-time feed intervals and longer day-time feeds at five weeks, compared with other General-Community and Bed-Sharing infants. Twice as many General-Community infants whose parents introduced these short intervals before feeding in the early weeks slept for long night-time periods at three months of age on both video and parent-report measures, compared with other General-Community and Bed-Sharing infants. The findings’ implications for our understanding of infant sleep-waking development, parenting programmes, and for practice and research, are discussed.