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SIDS: Reducing the risk

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, is defined as the sudden and unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant, for which there is no explanation. In other words, SIDS is a classification that is used to describe an infant whose death cannot be otherwise explained.

SIDS is rare with around 250 babies a year in the UK dying suddenly and unexpectedly.

The NHS says most cot deaths happen in the first three months of a baby’s life. The risk is higher in premature babies or those who have a low birth weight. SIDS is also more common in boys than girls. Cot deaths are more likely to happen during sleep at night, but can occur during the day.

SIDS causes

The cause of sudden infant death syndrome is still not known, but experts believe it happens at a particular stage of a baby’s development and in those who are vulnerable to some environmental and other factors.

Environmental risks include tobacco smoke, becoming caught up in bedding, illness or breathing obstruction. SIDS deaths may also be caused by some babies having problems regulating heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

Preventing SIDS

The NHS offers advice to help prevent SIDS. Talk to your health visitor or GP if you have concerns.

  • Always put the baby to sleep on his back, with his feet touching the foot of the cot. It may help to remember the phrase ‘back to sleep’.
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered. Use light blankets, securely tucked in and no higher than the baby’s shoulders. Do not put soft materials such as stuffed toys, pillows or duvets in the cot with the baby.
  • Do not put the baby to sleep on soft surfaces such as a sofa, waterbed, pillow or other surface that can conform to the child's face.
  • It is safest for your baby to sleep in your bedroom, in his own cot. Do not sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.
  • Don’t share a bed with your baby if you smoke, drink, take drugs or are very tired, or if your baby was born prematurely or of low birth weight.
  • Don’t let your baby get too hot. Keep the room where your baby sleeps at a safe temperature, and especially avoid over-heating. The temperature should be between 16 and 20C.
  • Stop smoking Never smoke near your baby, or in any home where a baby lives. Babies exposed to smoke are at an increased risk of SIDS, compared to children in a smoke-free environment.
  • If the baby seems unwell, take him or her to the doctor or seek medical advice without delay.
  • Make sure to take care of the baby before he is even born by having regular antenatal check-ups, eating well and not smoking during pregnancy.

The Lullaby Trust offers help and support for bereaved families. It recommends breastfeeding as a natural way to increase a baby's resistance to infection.

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Reviewed on May 06, 2016

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