About Dr. McKenna

Dr. James J. McKenna directed the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame for 22 years, the first and only lab in the United States studying the physiology and behavior of cosleeping mothers and infants. He earned a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Oregon, Eugene, and is widely considered to be the leading authority on breastfeeding in relationship to SIDS and bedsharing safety.

Dr. McKenna began his career in biological anthropology studying the social behavior and development of monkeys and apes with an emphasis on parenting behavior and ecology, pioneering the first behavioral and electro-physiological studies documenting differences between mothers and infants sleeping together and apart. He has become known worldwide for his work in promoting studies of breastfeeding and mother-infant cosleeping, and coined a new term, “breastsleeping,” to describe the safe combination of the two. Learn more about breastsleeping here.


He is now the nation's foremost authority and spokesperson to the national press on issues pertaining to infant and childhood sleep problems, sleep development, and breastfeeding. In 2008, Dr. McKenna received the prestigious Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Arts and Letters. In the same year, he was inducted as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was awarded one of the American Anthropological Association’s top prizes, the Anthropologist in the Media Award, for promulgating to the public the importance of SIDS research, infant sleep, breastfeeding, and other anthropological studies, writings, and concepts. Along with Dr. Sarah Mosko, he has won the prestigious Shannon Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for their SIDS research.

Dr. McKenna is proud to have written a number of books both academic and for the trade. As a researcher, it is his great honor to share his findings with the public. In addition to Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions (January 2020), he is also the author or editor of:

  • Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution (2014)

  • A Quick Guide to Sleeping With Your Baby (2010)

  • Sleeping with Your Baby (2007)

  • Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives (2007)

About His Lab

The University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab is the first and only lab in the United States studying mother-infant sleep. It is both a research and teaching laboratory within the Department of Anthropology at Notre Dame where undergraduates can gain firsthand experience conducting cutting-edge research examining issues of national and international significance. These issues include the safety of different sleep environments as well as the physiological and/or psychological consequences of the choice of sleeping arrangements parents make.

© 2020 James J. McKenna, Ph.D.