Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is commonly referred to as cot death. It is the term for the sudden death of a healthy baby that occurs without explanation or expectation. Thankfully SIDS is rare with about 200 babies dying in the UK every year, but every death is one death too many, so the aim is to reduce the risk as much as possible.
Research so far has helped us understand a few things about babies who suffer from SIDS: it usually occurs when a baby is asleep, is most common during the first 6 months of life and is more common in baby boys, children born prematurely or those with lower birth weight. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke, have too much bedding or who co-sleep with their parents are also at greater risk. While research hasn’t definitely confirmed it, these babies are thought to have mild difficulties with their heart or lungs.
The way your baby sleeps is really important and there is lots of evidence-based advice on this. Place baby on their back when they sleep on a firm mattress and with their feet touching the foot of the cot or basket. They should have a light blanket up to their shoulders so they are less likely to slip under their bedding, and their head left uncovered. Using sleepsuits instead of blankets is another way to reduce this risk. It is advised that your baby sleeps in the same room as you for the first 6 months but avoid co-sleeping (especially if you smoke, drink alcohol or take any drugs or medications which may increase your drowsiness) as there is a risk you may roll over onto baby and suffocate them. Breastfeeding is said to offer some protection against SIDS so this is always encouraged. The temperature of the room is important, ideally placed between 16 and 20 degrees C. Do not allow anyone to smoke near your baby and avoid smoking during your pregnancy or after the birth of your child. Where they sleep should be a strict smoke-free zone.
Watch out for signs your baby is too hot or cold – they may be sweating, shivering or gasping for breath. If your baby is struggling for breath, turns blue, is difficult to arouse, becomes unconscious or has a fit, dial 999 immediately for an ambulance. The Lullaby Trust has some great resources on reducing the risk of SIDS and also offers emotional support for bereaved families.