A room of their own: the social landscape of infant sleep.
This paper draws on findings of a study in which new and experienced mothers' caregiving practices were investigated, in order to examine social perspectives of infant sleep. Health professionals who work to support early parenting and promote child health and well-being provide guidance to their clients concerning infant sleep cares. Currently, advice is predominantly informed by understandings and strategies derived from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) risk reduction campaigns and behavioural training models. The social context of caregiving is a significant if somewhat neglected perspective. The analysis presented in this paper suggests that in sleep arrangements, a complex social locale is revealed, an elaboration of carers' values and understandings about infants as developing persons, juxtaposed with their own desires and needs. Tensions between child-centred nurturing and adult-focused concerns are expressed and reconciled in caregiving. These understandings may assist health professionals to develop proactive and responsive practices in the area of early childrearing support. The topic of sleep, that is how, where, when and with whom an infant sleeps, is an important one for parents, most particularly mothers as the primary carers, as well as for the health professionals who seek to support parenting practice. Attending to sleep needs is one of a number of seemingly unremarkable cares (Murcott 1993) that represent much of the everyday reality of life with an infant. These cares depict parenting behaviours and also show ways in which the physical, emotional and social, health and well-being of an infant is nurtured (Liem and Ling 1994). Mothers develop these cares over time and in the context of their particular lifestyle. In the process they draw on their previous experiences, the wisdom of friends and family, as well as the advice and expertise of parenting guides and health professionals. Midwives and community child health nurses are predominant among health professionals in Australia who are involved in supporting early parenting. Various national and state policy agendas (Commonwealth Department of Health 1995; Commonwealth Department of Health 1997; Queensland Health 2001) underpin services in which these practitioners conduct a range of physical and developmental assessments as well as counsel parents about infant cares such as feeding, settling, and sleep. Current advice on the topic of sleep is informed first, by biomedical and public health discourse associated with the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and second, by developmental psychology discourse. This paper aims to extend a social perspective of caregiving in regard to infant sleep, arguing that knowledge of the social contexts or locales (Giddens 1991; Curtis and Jones 1998) within which practices are developed is an important perspective for professionals to incorporate. To do this the paper draws upon the findings of a qualitative study that explored the way mothers, as part of their experience of raising infants, developed specific care practices associated with infant sleep. The paper concentrates, primarily, on the implications these practices have for infants.
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