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Receiving award at Buckingham Palace

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have presented the UK’s highest academic honour to Durham University for research that has helped to shape the way babies sleep and how parents care for them at night time.

At the awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace, similar to an investiture, the Royal couple awarded The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and Professor Helen Ball, Director of the Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre (formerly Parent-Infant Sleep Lab), with the University’s Chancellor, Sir Thomas Allen, in attendance.

Caring for babies

The Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre’s work with more than 5,000 parents and babies during the last 20 years has substantially increased parents’ understanding of babies’ sleep, how best to care for babies during the night, and how best to keep them safe when asleep.

The prize has been awarded to Durham University for ‘leading influential research on parent-infant sleep with a widely-used public information service’.

The awards, part of the national honours system in the UK, are approved by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister from recommendations made by the Royal Anniversary Trust’s Awards Council.

From research to practice

Manager of Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, Dr Charlotte Russell, along with five PhD students who have worked on Sleep Lab research projects were also at the Palace for the ceremony, at which Prince Charles presented a medal to Professor Corbridge before the Duchess presented a scroll, representing the Certificate, to Professor Ball.

Professor Ball, of the Department of Anthropology at Durham University, said: “The research we have published and shared has influenced how parents and health professionals think about baby sleep. It is amazing to hear our work quoted back to us when we speak to health professionals and parents.

“To receive recognition for this work via the Queen’s Anniversary Prize is tremendously rewarding, and we are most grateful to all the organisations and individuals who have shared our work and translated it into policy and practice.”

Safe sleeping

Working together with partner organisations, the research of the Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre in the Department of Anthropology has helped to reduce rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) through evidence-based advice for health professionals and parents.

Projects include those that have looked at the risks and benefits of bed-sharing with babies; safer sleeping arrangements for twin babies; physical closeness between mother and baby on the postnatal ward and what this means for breastfeeding; how parents understand infant sleep development; and use of so-called ‘baby bed boxes’.

As a result of the Centre's research, the use of side-car cribs on postnatal wards has spread from the UK to Europe, USA and Australia. Side-car cribs are cots that can be attached to the mother’s bed without a barrier between the two, keeping mothers and babies close with benefits for breastfeeding and responsiveness to babies in the early postnatal period.

Public information service

Durham's online Baby Sleep Information Service (formerly Infant Sleep Information Source) run by the Durham Infancy and Sleep Centre, which has been accessed more than two million times from countries across the world, is shared and recommended by parents and health professionals as a reliable evidence-based home of information on normal infant sleep.

A related app, called Infant Sleep Info, is also used by parents with new-born babies.

The Royal Anniversary Trust announced the Prize Winners at St James’s Palace in November last year. At the time, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, commented: “We are hugely honoured to receive this prestigious award, which recognises the immensely valuable and wide-reaching impact of the research carried out by the team in the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab.

“At Durham, we aim to deliver research that is world-leading and world-changing and the work of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab is a perfect example of this commitment.”

The Infant Sleep Information Source was set up in 2012 with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in collaboration with UNICEF UK, La Leche League and the National Childbirth Trust, and continues with support from Durham University.