We don’t unfortunately know the exact cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), better known as cot death. However, we do know that putting a baby to sleep on their back reduces the risk and that exposing them to cigarette smoke and allowing them to overheat can increase the risk. We also know there is an association between SIDS and co-sleeping with your baby on a bed, sofa or chair.
SIDS is a rare occurrence, so don’t let worrying about it stop you from enjoying your baby, particularly in those first few months, instead follow the advice below as much as possible to reduce the risk.
Back to Sleep
Be sure to put your baby on his back to sleep, get into this habit right from birth for both daytime and nighttime sleeping. Don’t worry your baby won’t choke; babies have an automatic instinct to turn their head to the side if necessary. Once your baby is old enough to roll over, there is no need to worry and you will be unable to keep him in one place! By this age the highest risk for SIDS will have passed.
The best and safest place for your baby to sleep during the first six months of life will be in a cot, moses basket or carrycot suitable for overnight sleeping in the same room as you. This guidance is especially important if either you or your partner is a smoker, if you have drunk alcohol or taken prescription medication or drugs, which may make you, sleep heavier. The risks of co-sleeping are also increased if your baby was born prematurely before 37 weeks or was a low birth weight, less than 5.5lb. As well as a higher risk of SIDS, there is also a risk you may roll over and suffocate your baby during the night, or your baby may be unintentionally injured.
Say No to the Sofa or Armchair
It’s lovely to sit and cuddle or feed your baby on the sofa or armchair, however avoid sleeping in these places with your baby as it is linked to a higher risk of SIDS. The safest place to put your baby to sleep when downstairs is in a moses basket or carrycot in a feet to foot position on their back.
No Smoking near Baby
Don’t allow anyone to smoke in the same room as your baby. Research has shown that babies exposed to cigarette smoke both before and after birth are at an increased risk of SIDS. Don’t allow anyone to smoke in your house and insist anyone who goes outside to smoke washes their hands, removes their outer jacket and wait 30 minutes before going near your baby. If you or your partner are smokers now might be a good time to quit, visit your GP or ask your Health Visitor for a referral to a smoking cessation service.
Don’t let your Baby get too Hot or Cold
Overheating can increased the risk of SIDS. Babies can get to hot because of too much bedding or too may layers of clothing or simply because the room is too hot. If you want to check if your baby is too hot, look to see if he is sweating or check to see if his tummy feels hot to tough. If your baby feels to hot take off some bedding or a layer of clothing. Don’t worry if the hands of feet feel cool, this is totally normal. You can adjust the temperature by using layers of blankets; a folded blanket counts as two layers! Alternatively, select lightweight well-fitting sleeping bags. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature, 18c is ideal. If the room is particularly warm, your baby may only need a sheet at night. Never put your baby to sleep with a hot water bottle, electric blanket, next to a radiator or in direct sunshine as this can cause your baby to overheat. If your baby becomes too hot he will lose excess heat through his head, ensure that the head can’t be covered by bedclothes whilst asleep and remove hats and additional outdoor clothing as soon as you come indoors.
Don’t Cover Baby’s Head
If your baby’s head becomes covered by bedding it increases the risk of SIDS. Prevent this from occurring by placing your baby in the feet to foot position, this means his feet are placed at the end of the cot, moses basket or carrycot. Tuck all covers in securely under baby’s arms and use just one of more layers of blankets. Always select a mattress, which is firm, clean, dry and well fitting. Avoid using duvets, quilts, baby nests, pillows and wedges until your baby is older.
Breastfeeding & Dummies
Breastfeeding your baby has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. It has also been shown that giving your baby a dummy when he is going off to sleep also reduces the risk of SIDS. However, we don’t know 100% how the dummies reduce this risk, therefore dummies are not actively being promoted at the moment. If you do decide to use a dummy, don’t start until your breastfeeding is well established, this will usually be around 6-8 weeks after birth. Stop giving your baby a dummy between 6-12 months of age.
Seek Medial Help if Unwell
Your baby will often experience minor illnesses. Give your baby plenty of fluids, cuddles and don’t let him get too hot. If your baby is very sleeping, wake him up regularly for a feed. It can sometimes be difficult to judge when you need to seek medical attention, if your baby has a high pitched, weak or continuous cry, is less responsive or floppy, has a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on top of the head), had not been taking any feed for 8 hours or more, has a temperature above 38c, is experiencing difficulty breathing or turning blue and is unusually drowsy then it is time to seek urgent medical advice.