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Sleep on the back - play on the front

baby on back asleep on a cot mattress

One in five babies are at increased risk of cot death because they are not slept on the back.

A new survey from the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths reveals that 21% of mothers do not always place young babies down to sleep on their back. Failing to put babies to sleep on the back increases the risk of cot death by nine times.

Six years ago there was a suggestion that only 10% of babies were not routinely sleeping on the back. The possible increase in dangerous practice is alarming. It may be that parents are avoiding back sleeping because of increasing publicity about "flat head syndrome" or plagiocephaly, a condition which is entirely cosmetic, almost always corrects itself within a year, and may be avoided if parents give the baby plenty of awake time on the front or sitting up.

However the new survey also finds that parents are not giving their babies much time playing on their front or sitting up:

Most mothers (63%) of babies aged 0-6 months regularly give them time to play on the back on the floor, whereas few (22%) regularly give their babies time to play on the front

One in five mothers (19%) with babies aged 0-6 months never give their babies front play time

A new leaflet produced by FSID, "Sleep on the back, play on the front", highlights the key baby safety message to parents that they must continue to sleep their babies on the back in order to reduce the risk of cot death, explains the importance of supervised front play and gives parents tips for 'tummy time ' activities.

Joyce Epstein, FSID 's director said:

"We are really alarmed to see that a fifth of babies are not being placed on the back to sleep. Our fear is that the lifesaving message to sleep babies on the back to reduce the risk of cot death will be undermined by a mistaken perception that flattened heads poses a greater danger. It does not. This campaign is to remind parents they must not abandon back sleeping for babies. Parents may be able to avoid or minimise the effects of flat head syndrome simply by having fun with their babies when they are awake, not by jeopardising their safety when they are asleep."

Clare Jolly, health visitor advisor to FSID said:

"We are seeing more babies with flattened heads because they are spending so much of their waking time lying flat on the back. Parents often wrongly think they should not let their baby be on the front at all. When a baby is awake they should enjoy different positions from the very beginning. Although flat head syndrome does not do any medical harm, parents are naturally anxious and we need to let mums and dads know that they do not need expensive treatment or special devices - they just need to follow the advice in FSID 's new leaflet."

Peta Smith, Vice Chair of the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (APCP), said:

"We welcome FSID 's 'Sleep on the back - Play on the front ' campaign. Paediatric physiotherapists have been reporting an increase in the number of children who show a delay in movement development amongst healthy infants who rarely spend much time on their tummies to play.

"The first few months of life are an important time for babies to start to become aware of their bodies and develop the skills they require for rolling over, sitting and crawling. Simple measures like giving your baby supervised tummy time every day will help them co-ordinate, balance and control their body and give them a foundation for all movement and skills."

(1) The survey was carried out by Bounty for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. 1,545 mothers with babies aged up to one year old were interviewed throughout March 2006. All results are nationally representative. Please refer to the fact sheet for details of these and other findings.

(2) FSID conducted a survey in 83 maternity units across the country throughout the year 2000 and found that 10% of babies were not being placed to sleep on the back while on the unit; parents tend to take their cue for baby care at home based on practice that begins in hospital.

(3) Babies should always be supervised when they are playing on the front to remove the danger of the baby getting into difficulties or falling asleep in this position, which poses a risk of cot death.

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths is the UK 's leading baby charity working to prevent sudden infant deaths and promote baby health. FSID funds research, supports bereaved families and promotes safe baby care advice to parents and professionals.

2nd September 2013, 17:52
Page updated 5th Oct 2015, 13:25
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