How to help prevent cot death

tips to help prevent cot death

Cot death was definitely my biggest worry when my daughter Emilia was born. Almost 30 years ago, my family lost my beloved baby brother, Billy, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) when he was seven months old.

Every parent’s greatest fear is that their child might die, especially during those early few months when the baby seems so tiny and helpless but Billy’s death made me even more paranoid. I made a hobby out of checking my newborn daughter’s breathing every 10 minutes when she first came home from hospital.

Henrietta and her brother Billy.
Henrietta and her brother Billy.

Thankfully, cot death is rare these days. While doctors are still not exactly sure what causes SIDS, they do know how we can help to reduce the risk. Here is a list of tips, in line with the latest research.

Place baby on its back to sleep

Since the Back to Sleep campaign was introduced 20 years ago, the rates of cot death have reduced by 80%.

Do not expose baby to smoking during pregnancy or after birth

Exposing your baby to smoke during pregnancy or after birth hugely increases the risk of cot death. My health visitor told me that visitors should even be asked to remove their jumper if they had smoked before handling baby but I don’t think I ever had the courage to follow up on that!

Do not share a bed with baby

If you or your partner smoke, have taken drugs or have been drinking alcohol

Do not sleep with baby on a sofa or armchair

In those early foggy days, this can seem like the only way to catch up on sleep, but it is really important to follow this advice – it is amazing how deeply you can sleep when you’re that tired.

Don’t let your baby get too hot or too cold

It is recommended that the room has a temperature of between 16 and 20 degrees C, with light bedding or a lightweight sleeping bag. This can feel quite Arctic though! I think it’s important to use your common sense here: if baby feels very hot to touch then remove a layer or turn down the heating. It is pointless getting into a panic about the room temperature because there’s very little you can do to control a heatwave in August!

Do remember, though, not to let baby sleep with a hat on indoors.

Place baby in the ‘feet to foot’ position in their cot or pram

This means positioning your baby with their feet touching the end of their cot or pram, which will prevent them wriggling under any blankets. A baby sleeping bag will ensure they definitely can’t do this!

Try to breastfeed – at least for a bit!

Even a brief period of breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of cot death

Other things to consider

Swaddling

There is no current official advice on swaddling from the NHS with regards to it posing a risk of cot death to babies. The charity Lullaby Trust advises neither for or against the practice, but says that if you do swaddle, it should be done for every day and night sleep, as part of a regular routine; you should use thin blankets, never swaddle above the shoulders or too tight, and never put a swaddled baby on their front to sleep.

Movement monitors

I am very much in two minds about these monitors. I can see that they help to provide peace of mind for parents (which is priceless in itself), but there is no evidence that they have ever saved a baby’s life and babies have indeed been known to die while using one. I remember my own parents’ distress every time my sister’s monitor went off because she had managed to wriggle off it or the battery had gone flat (it was an 80’s prototype!). I didn’t use one with Emilia and I will probably do without one this time too. It’s important to remember that babies can sadly die anywhere they sleep, such as in their car seats, and I have always thought that for someone like me, who is paranoid as the result of a close hand experience of cot death, it might do my nerves no favours if I relied on the monitor for cot sleeps but then couldn’t use one for buggy or car naps.

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