What is cot death / SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, commonly as SIDS or cot death, is a concern for every new parent, particularly as no-one can say exactly how or why it happens. The term doesn’t describe one illness, but rather the sudden and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby under two years old. The syndrome is the lead cause of death for babies over a month old in the UK but it’s still, thankfully, very rare, affecting around one in three thousand babies.
While no-one knows the exact causes of cot death, studies have shown that some babies are more at risk than others, these include premature babies, babies whose parents or carers smoke, siblings of an earlier cot death baby and babies set to sleep on their stomach. Babies are most at risk in the first six months when 90% of SIDS deaths occur.
The risks are low, and you need to be careful not to let worries cloud your first months but a few simple steps can cut the risks considerably and help to set your mind at rest. Evidence of this is the fact that since the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths launched its awareness campaign to reduce the risk of SIDS in 1991 the rate of cot death has fallen by around 70%. Here’s what you can do to lower the risk for your baby:
Steps to lower the risk
- Do not smoke during pregnancy and don’t allow people to smoke near your baby
- Put your baby to sleep on his back. Research has shown that putting a baby to sleep on his back cuts the risk of SIDS by 50% compared with babies put to sleep on their front. If your baby won’t settle on his back you can try putting him to sleep on one side with his lower arm stretched out so he can’t roll onto his front
- In a cot use a flat, firm mattress for your baby to sleep on
- Place his feet against the bottom of the bed and tuck blankets in so so they are no higher than his shoulders and he can’t wriggle down under the blankets – he needs to lose heat from his head
- Man-made fibres are most likely to lead to overheating, so only use natural fibres for your baby’s bedding and layer bedding so you can easily take layers off or on. Be careful not to overdress or overcover your baby at night. Check how warm your baby is by placing your hand on his chest rather than feeling his hands or feet.
- Don’t use any kind of artificial heating in or near your baby’s cot.
- Use flat, fitted sheets in the cot
- Don’t use a pillow in the cot
- Avoid cot bumpers when your baby is still young and keep soft toys out of the cot
- Never take your baby into bed with you if you’ve taken drugs or alcohol or if you are a heavy sleeper. The NHS and the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths recommend that you don’t take your baby into bed with you at all for the first six months but keep him in a cot or crob close to your bed
- There’s some evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of cot death for infants
If your baby is unwell
Get medical advice if your baby appears unwell, particularly if he:
Isn’t responding to you as he normally does
- Is having trouble breathing or is wheezing
- Is vomiting
- Feels hot and/or sweaty
- Is pale
- Has a rash