Cot death: Everything you need to know about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)

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  • SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), which is also commonly referred to as 'cot death', is a prospect that can haunt parents and mainly affects babies in their first six months.

    SIDS or cot death, 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 SIDS 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 sudden infant death syndrome for parents to dramatically reduce the risk. The following tips will help to reduce the 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 and firmly tucked in bedding.

    3. Don’t let your baby overheat: never place a cot next to a radiator; don’t use a duvet or any headwear and keep your baby’s room between 16-20 degrees.

    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, flat mattress for your baby. No pillows, bean bags or water beds.

    7. Don’t fall asleep on an armchair or sofa with your baby – you might smother them.

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

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

    10. Breastfeed if possible.

    Is it okay to swaddle my baby?

    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 increase the risk of SIDS?

    Bed sharing increases the risk of SIDS and the risk is particularly increased where:

    • Either parent smokes even if they don&’t smoke in the bedroom or anywhere in the house
    • Either parent has consumed alcohol or taken drugs (including medication that may make you drowsy)
    • The baby is premature
    • The baby was a low birth weight

    The safest place for a baby to sleep for the first six months is a separate cot or Moses basket in the same room as the parents.

    Will giving my baby a dummy reduced the risks of SIDS?

    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 SIDS.

    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.

    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

    The Lullaby Trust also has a helpful guide called the Baby Check booklet which includes a checklist of symptoms to help you understand if your baby is ill.

    Is SIDS something you worry about as a parent? Let us know in the comments below