Cot death: Everything you need to know about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

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Cot death, or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a prospect that haunts most parents and mainly affects babies in their first six months.

The unexplained condition, which kills just under 300 babies in the UK every year, is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby.

The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, but research shows boys and premature babies are at slightly higher risk.

While cot death has no symptoms that parents can look out for, there are a few guidelines on what measure to take in order to avoid sudden death syndrome.

Ways to help prevent cot death

The Lullaby Trust, a charity that specialises in expert advice on safer baby sleep and raises awareness on sudden infant death, has a handy video that outlines the do's and dont's of keeping your baby safe while sleeping.

Thankfully enough is now known about cot death for parents to dramatically reduce the risk. The following tips will help to reduce the (very small) risk of cot death and put your mind at rest.

1. Lie your baby down on their back to sleep.

2. Place them 'feet to foot'. Their feet should reach the end of the cot, with blankets to their chest.

3. Don't let your baby overheat: never place a cot next to a radiator; don't use a duvet or any headwear.

4. Don't smoke in pregnancy or around a young baby (dads, too!).

5. Keep baby's cradle or cot in your room for the first six months.

6. Use firm bedding for your baby. No pillows, bean bags or water beds.

7. Don't put your baby into your bed to sleep.

8. Don't fall asleep on an armchair or sofa with your baby - you might smother them.

9. If your baby is unwell, contact your doctor promptly.

10. Don't worry! Cot death is rare, especially after 5 months.

11. Keep your baby's head uncovered, don't tuck their blanket too high and make sure it's never above their shoulders.

12. Use a firm, flat and waterproof mattress.

13. Breastfeed if possible.

Can swaddling my baby cause cot death?

Swaddling is a traditional practice of wrapping a baby in a blanket tightly, to keep them from moving too much during the night. Recent research has found that this could potentially be harmful, and a possible contributing factor to SIDs.

Dr Anna Pease, lead author of a study at University of Bristol that looked into the causes of SIDs, said: 'We tried to gather evidence of whether there was an association between swaddling for sleep and SIDS.

'The risk of SIDS when placing infants on the side or front for sleep increased when infants were swaddled.'

The current recommendation advises not placing your child on its side or front for sleep, and this would appear especially important if you have swaddled your baby.

Anna advises parents that, 'most babies start being able to roll over at about four to six months.

'On a practical level what parents should take away from this is that if they choose to swaddle their babies for sleep, always place them on their back, and think about when to stop swaddling for sleep as their babies get older and more able to move.'

Can co-sleeping with my baby cause cot death?

Research has confirmed a link between co-sleeping with your infant and sudden infant death syndrome, but that's not to say that it's something you should avoid.

A study published in the BMJ Open looked at almost 1,500 cot deaths and a control group of 4,500 parents. It found that in a fifth of cases, one or both of the parents had been sleeping with their baby at the time of their death, even when parents had avoided other risk increasing factors, such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Current UK guidelines suggest that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot or crib in your room, but it is totally up to parents to decide.

Will giving my baby a dummy prevent cot death?

Dummies aren't a means of prevention as such, but they are associated with a reduced risk of cot death. These recent findings are slightly confusing for parents, but basically mean that if your baby uses a dummy, he should carry on doing so.

Experts don't yet know why dummies help in babies who are used to them, but the statistics prove they do. And dummy-users who suddenly stop are at increased risk of cot death.

So if your baby has a dummy, be sure to use it every night. It's thought that it may help by creating more air space if a baby's face gets under a blanket. But this doesn't wholly explain the difference between users and non-users, so there's no reason for you to introduce one as a means of prevention.

Continued below...

Seeking medical advice if your baby is unwell

There are lots of minor illnesses that babies can suffer from that are absolutely nothing to be seriously worried about. But if your little one is showing some of the following symptoms you should dial 999 for an ambulance:
  • Stops breathing or turns blue
  • Struggling for breath
  • Unconscious and seems dazed
  • Won't wake up
  • Has a fit
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    Your comments

    Penni Moore

    Strong possibility of either you or husband rolling over on baby and suffocating them. Happened to a friend of mine.


    I have to agree with Charlotte (below). The statistics and the article don't match. I kept both of my boys in the bed with me when they were first born so I could nurse them and warm them with my body. It was an incredible experience that I would do again if I weren't almost old enough to be a grandmother.

    Charlotte Hall

    Is it just me?.....if 1/5 of cases of cot death occur when parents are sleeping with their babies then surely that means that 4/5 of cases occur when parents do not sleep with their babies no? So why advise them not to sleep with their babies? I don't get it ...somebody please enlighten me.


    this is a good page for my child development course and its a good thing for parents to look at if they are worried about putting there child into a cot just incase it has cot death.

    suzanne johnson

    this is a good page for my child development course and its a good thing for parents to look at if they are worried about putting there child into a cot just incase it has cot death.


    very good article. x

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