Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: What You Need To Know

Each year, around 300 babies die of a condition known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or cot death. It can happen to any child, but research has shown that it is more common in babies between one and three months, premature babies, and infants with a low birth weight. Studies also show that it is more common in baby boys, though researchers are unsure why this is. Most cot death occurs when a baby is asleep in their cot at night. However, it can happen whenever your baby is sleeping, such as they’re in their pram or in your arms. It can even happen when a baby isn’t sleeping, such as when they’re in the middle of a feed. After a cot death occurs, there will be a thorough investigation to see if examiners can determine why your baby dies, and to gather information to help prevent further cot deaths in children in the future. This is standard procedure and will not in any way be a sign of suspicion or blame that your baby’s death is something to be questioned in terms of your parenting – because cot deaths are so rare, there is still little understanding behind why they occur.


Fewer than half of all cot deaths have a specific cause attached to them, but possible causes could include a serious infection, or a problem that was unknown in your baby, such as a congenital heart or lung problem. If there is no specific cause that can be found to explain the cause of death for your baby, then it will be defined as SIDS. There have been a number of factors associated with this condition, such as placing your baby on their chest to sleep, smoking in the same room as your baby, allergies, bacterial or viral infections, unknown genetic conditions, problems with the area of the brain which controls breathing, overheating, an irregular heartbeat, or accidental suffocation. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, or FSID, and the Department of Health have outlined ways in which you can help to reduce the number of cot deaths reported every year, such as seeking medical advice promptly if your baby is unwell, or keeping your baby cool if they have a high temperature. The exposure to smoking after and during pregnancy has also been attributed to a higher risk of cot death, so if a baby lives in a household with a smoker, it’s vital that they don’t let smoke anywhere near the baby – they should smoke outside, not just away from the baby.


It’s advised that for the first six months of your baby’s life, they sleep in a cot in your bedroom – this is recommended as the safest place for them to sleep. You should always lie them on their back to sleep, and place them with their feet at the foot of the cot to prevent them wriggling under the covers. You shouldn’t fall asleep while sitting or lying on a sofa or armchair, and don’t let your baby sleep with a pillow. A firm mattress with a waterproof cover is advised for your baby’s cot, as is tucking in the bedding so that it is secure. You should also always ensure that your baby’s head isn’t covered with bedding. Experts recommend that you never share a bed with your baby if you or your partner have been drinking alcohol, have taken medication which makes you drowsy, or are extremely tired. These all heighten the risks of cot death occurring, so should be avoided where possible.

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