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Safe Sleeping for Babies

Raised awareness now means babies are more likely to sleep safely in their cots, but there are a few useful start points for every parent.


Posted: 20 October 2009
by Louise Rogers


A baby sleeping peacefully is an endearing image, one that conjures up feelings of comfort and security. The sad truth is that some babies die in their sleep, and finding out why has long been the subject of much scientific research.
To put it into perspective, cot death (or, to be more technically correct, sudden infant death syndrome), the sudden and unexplained death of an infant, is mercifully rare. In 2005 in the UK, 300 cot deaths were recorded, equivalent to 0.415 per 1,000 live births. However, while the actual risk of it happening to your child is small, the worry can be much greater, especially as there is almost certainly no single cause. The risk is greater in families that come from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds, and among smokers.
The good news is that there are simple measures we can take to minimise the risk, and since the introduction of the government’s Back To Sleep campaign in 1991, which advised parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs, the rate has dropped from two babies per 1,000 to its current low.

Sharing a bed with your baby
The debate as to whether you should share your bed with your baby continues, as co-sleeping has been cited as a risk factor for cot death. Consequently, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID), the Department of Health and the UNICEF Baby-friendly Initiative recommending that your baby sleeps in a cot in the parents’ bedroom for the first six months.
On the other side, some child health experts, such as Margot Sunderland, author of The Science of Parenting (Dorling Kindersley, £16.99), believe that co-sleeping can be beneficial to your child’s long-term mental health, giving a stronger sense of security, and increasing the likelihood of your child growing into a calm, healthy adult. She argues that putting children to sleep on their own is a western phenomenon, and that the calming effect of a mother’s heartbeat and breathing on her baby may even reduce the risk of cot death.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s good to be aware of the guidelines laid down by the FSID for new parents.

  • Cut smoking in pregnancy - fathers too!
  • Don't let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
  • Don't let your baby get too hot
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered - place your baby with their feet to the foot of the cot, to prevent wriggling down under the covers
  • If your baby is unwell, seek medical advice promptly.
  • The safest place for your baby to sleep for the first six months is in a cot, in your room
  • Never sleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair
  • Never share a bed with your baby if you or your partner: are smokers (even if you don't smoke in bed or at home); feel very tired; have been drinking alcohol; take medication or drugs that make you drowsy; OR if your baby was born premature or small at birth, or is less than three months old.

There is also a risk that you might roll over in your sleep and suffocate your baby, or that your baby could get caught between the wall and the bed, or could roll out of an adult bed and be injured.

Bedtime safety

  • Keep your baby's bedroom at 16-18 degrees C - as a rough guide, if you are comfortable in light clothing, it’s probably about right. Overheating is a risk factor

  • Don't use pillows - or a duvet until your baby is at least one (pillows can smother and duvets can overheat). Instead, use cotton cot blankets.

  • Don't give your baby a hot water bottle - or electric blanket

  • Don't let your baby fall asleep propped up on a cushion - on a sofa or armchair

  • Set your baby to sleep with his feet at the bottom of the cot - and his blankets or sheet tucked in so he can't wriggle further down, under the blankets during his sleep

  • Make sure your baby's mattress - is clean and dry and fits the cot snugly
For further information check www.sids.org.uk.

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