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Reduce the risk of cot death

Sadly each year in the UK, around 350 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly of sudden infant death syndrome or cot death, as it is commonly called.

STOP PRESS January 2004: Parents were advised this week not to share their bed with a young baby after new evidence that the practice increases the risk of cot death.

One of the biggest studies of its kind has concluded that bed-sharing puts babies under eight weeks old at a "small but significantly" higher risk of smothering or over-heating.

The new findings, published in the Lancet, come from a study of 745 cot death victims and 2,400 healthy babies from 17 European countries. It confirmed that the biggest risk to babies comes from tobacco smoke in the home, combined with bed-sharing. Prof Robert Carpenter, of the The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research, said the study showed the dangers of even non-smoking parents sharing a bed with their baby. For children under eight weeks old, bed-sharing increased the risk of sudden infant death by 1.6 per cent.

Previously, only parents who smoked, who were excessively tired or under the influence of drink or drugs were told not to share a bed with their baby. Joyce Epstein, the director of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death says" The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot in the parents' bedroom".

You can do a number of things to decrease your baby's risk of cot death, but at present there's no way to prevent it. Below are the important steps you can take to help reduce the risk.

  • Place your baby on his back to sleep; a healthy baby is not more likely to choke in this position and sleeping on the back has been shown to reduce the incidence of cot death.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy.
  • Make your baby’s room a smoke-free zone, and don't smoke if he comes into bed with you.
  • Keep your baby's cot in your bedroom for the first six months.
  • Don't let your baby get too hot; check his temperature by putting your hand on his tummy or the back of his neck. Keep the room your baby sleeps in at a comfortable temperature (around 64 degrees F/ 18 degrees C).
  • Make up the cot with the baby in the ‘feet to foot’ position. The sheets and blankets are made up half way down the cot and tucked under the mattress, so that your baby lies with his feet at the end of the cot. This makes it difficult for your baby to wriggle down under the bedclothes.
  • Use a sheet and blankets so you can take a layer or two off if he is hot, or add another layer if he is cold
    Don't use duvets or pillows for babies under one year.
    Your baby can also wriggle his head under a loose cot bumper or large soft toy, so you may prefer not to put these into the cot until he is over a year.
  • Have your baby immunised - there's evidence to show that this reduces the risk of cot death.
  • Don't fall asleep on a sofa with your baby, there is a risk of rolling on to them.
  • If you smoke, have been drinking alcohol, are very tired or if you're taking drugs or medication that may make you sleepy, don't share a bed with your baby.
  • Even if you don’t smoke or haven’t been drinking, bed-sharing is no longer considered safe for your baby. For children under eight weeks old, bed-sharing increases the risk of sudden infant death by 1.6 per cent.
  • If your baby is unwell, seek medical advice promptly.

For more information on how to reduce the risk of cot death, or if you have any concerns surrounding cot death, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) runs a 24-hour helpline: 020 7233 2090. Alternatively you can visit the FSID website.

These recommendations for reducing the risk of cot death are published in a leaflet called Reduce the Risk, published jointly by the Department of Health and the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death (FSID).

A copy of the leaflet can be obtained from:

The Department of Health

PO Box 410
Wetherby LS23 7LN

Tel:   0800 555 777
Fax:   01623 724 524

Page updated 21st Nov 2013, 10:43
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