Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is commonly referred to as cot death. It occurs when a baby aged 0 to 12 months dies unexpectedly without any explanation. SIDS is the most common reason for death in babies aged between one and twelve months old, and cot death is most common in babies aged between 2 and 4 months old.

How can I decrease the threat of SIDS?

The cause of sudden infant death syndrome is not known, but health experts are able to provide advice to parents about reducing the risk. The following steps can help to decrease the risk:

  • Position your baby on their back to sleep as this is the most effective means to lessen the threat of SIDS. Babies that sleep on their backs are less liable to pass away from SIDS than babies that sleep either on their side or front.
  • Be consistent with the sleeping position and always put your baby on their back to sleep. Babies who sleep on their backs as standard have a higher chance of cot death when they are put on their front to sleep.
  • Cover cot mattresses with a fitted sheet and avoid putting your baby soft materials such as sheepskin, and use fitted sheets so the baby does not get caught up in the sheet when they move around.
  • Avoid lots of layers. It is normal to want to keep your baby warm, but avoid layering them up and covering them in blankets and sheets as they will overheat during the night. Clothe your baby in light babygrows or pyjamas and maintain a comfortable room temperature.
  • Keep your baby's cot clear and try not to fill your baby's cot with blankets, toys and cuddly toys.
  • Use a clean dummy but never force your baby to use it. Leave it close to them so they can pick it up in the night if needed.
  • Do not allow people to smoke in your baby's bedroom.
  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy.
  • Avoid sharing your bed with your baby. It is normal to want to snuggle up with your baby but try to do this is the mornings when your baby is alert, rather than falling asleep with them in your bed.
  • Avoid sleeping with your baby on a sofa or armchair; put your baby to sleep in a Moses basket or cot.
  • Do not cover your baby's head during their sleep.

Who is at risk of sudden infant death syndrome?

Research suggests babies that sleep on their sides or fronts are more liable to pass away from SIDS than babies that do so when on their backs. Babies from some ethnic groups are more probable to die from cot death than others. Research suggests that babies who are African-American are twice as probable to die from cot death as white babies.

Premature babies have a higher danger of cot death than full-term babies and the risk will be increased if the mother smokes during pregnancy. The risk is slightly higher in boys than girls.

For information about the condition or to find out more about how to lessen the threat of SIDS, talk to your doctor, midwife or practice nurse. There are also specialist charities to provide information and advice as well as support for parents who have lost children to cot death.

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