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The Risk of Co-Sleeping and Cot Death

New research shows a clear link between 'cot death' and sleeping in the same bed as your baby

Posted: 30 April 2009
by Debra Stottor

Three in a bed? You could be putting your baby’s life at risk. That’s the verdict of many experts. For many years, advice for safe baby sleeping has recommended that parents don't have their baby to sleep with them on a sofa or bed. However, many new mums like to have their baby in their bed for bonding or feeding. Great as it may feel to them, it’s hard to refute given some of the alarming statistics being bandied about…

  • Of the 50 cases of unexpected death investigated by Dr Marta Cohen, paediatric pathologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, from 2004-2007, 31 had been sharing a bed or sofa with a parent.
  • Dr Chris Wright, consultant perinatal pathologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, reports that seven out of 15 cases from 2008-2009 were found in the parental bed; a further two had died on a sofa.
  • From 2005-2008, 173 babies died suddenly and unexpectedly in the London area. Of these, 85 were found dead after falling asleep in bed with an adult or on a sofa.
Mr John S Pollard, coroner for the Manchester South District, said:
“The numbers of infants that we continue to find dead in beds, on sofas or armchairs is unacceptable. We need to make all parents aware that the most comfortable place for them to sleep is the most dangerous place for their baby.”

Dr Chris Wright, said:
“In the majority of cases of sudden infant deaths in the North East, babies have been found not in their own cots, but in adult beds surrounded by duvets and pillows or after falling asleep with a carer on a sofa. Although we cannot prevent all unexpected deaths, ensuring that your baby sleeps in its own cot in a room with you, will undoubtedly lessen the chance of such a tragedy occurring.”

Reducing the risk of cot death
It’s a chilling thought that something that seems so natural and nurturing can present such a risk, but it’s important to put it into perspective and look at ways of minimising any risk.
First, do bear in mind that, though tragic, cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rare. And by following advice given by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID), you can reduce your risk factors enormously.
The FSID’s advice is that the safest place for your baby to sleep – night and day – is in a crib or cot in a room with you for the first six months.
It’s especially dangerous for your baby to sleep in your bed: if you (or your partner) are a smoker (even if you never smoke in bed or at home); have been drinking alcohol; take medication or drugs that make you drowsy; feel very tired; or if your baby was premature (born before 37 weeks) or low birthweight (under 2.5kg).

In many cultures, however, co-sleeping is common and cot deaths are rare, but it will take years of research before the reasons behind this are fully understood.
As Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says:
“The situation around co-sleeping is complex, and a number of factors need to be considered by parents before and if they do this, and they need to discuss this with their midwife.”
The RCM says many factors can contribute to the safety of co-sleeping, including cultural practices, whether the baby is being breastfed, what kind of bedcovers are being used, and where the co-sleeping is taking place.

For more advice and safe sleeping tips, visit:
Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths
Royal College of Midwives

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cot death, sudden infant death syndrome, sleep, safe, baby, SIDS

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