Updated 01 September 2015

Cot death: Reduce the chances of it happening

Cot death is every parent's nightmare. Are there steps you can take to prevent it? We explore the options.

Cot death is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby for no obvious reason. It is also called sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is the most common kind of death in babies under one year. To date, we still don’t know what the causes are.

How can you reduce the chances of it happening?

  • “Put your baby on the back to sleep”. The prone (face down) sleeping position should be avoided; from birth infants should be put to sleep on their sides or back, unless there are specific indications against this. Sleeping on their backs appears to be preferable to side sleeping, because of the greater likelihood of the infant rolling face down when on the side.
  • “Make sure your baby’s head remains uncovered during sleep and avoid overheating and tight wrapping”.
  • “Keep your baby smoke free – before birth and after”. Mothers should be warned of the dangers of smoking and drug taking.
  • “Cover the mattress with polythene sheeting”. Many new mattresses are fitted with such covering; used mattresses should be wrapped in a sheet of thick polythene (125 microns) which is folded and taped underneath. The evidence for toxic gases is still incomplete, but the practice has been shown to be safe, and is recommended in the UK and New Zealand. The best underblanket to use on a wrapped mattress is fleecy cotton.
  • "You should sleep in the same room as your baby". To lessen the risk of cot death it may be safer for the infant to sleep in the parent’s room. “For babies to endure increasingly long periods of solitude after birth is biologically unreasonable”.
  • It would also seem entirely reasonable biologically for the young infant to sleep in close proximity to its mother, and perhaps this is actually protective. The evidence suggests that there may be potential benefits to bed sharing which cannot be overlooked. This aspect requires further study in communities where co-sleeping is common.

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