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Preventing SIDS and when you can stop worrying about SIDS/cot death

There are many things parents can do to reduce the risk of SIDS in newborn babies. 

SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Sadly it is still something that happens to infants in the first year and although great strides have been made in researching this, there is still a lot that the medical community does not know about it.

Much of the advice given about preventing SIDS is related to the reduction of risk. In cases where a baby has died in unexplained circumstances in bed or while asleep, experts have tried to assess what was going on with the baby at that time in order to pinpoint a trigger.

By doing this, there are now statistics that show particular risk factors for cot death. The biggest of these is co-sleeping in an unsafe environment, such as on a sofa, when baby lives in a smoking household and where one or both parents have been drinking alcohol or used drugs.

There are of course other factors involved in cot death, and we will discuss those here along with lots of tips to reduce the risk of SIDS for your baby.

This post contains key advice on preventing SIDS, and explains when you can stop worrying about cot death. 

There is also lots of brilliant advice on the Lullaby Trust website, so do check it out! The charity is dedicated to reducing the risk of cot death and lowering the numbers of sudden deaths of babies.

How to prevent SIDS in your baby

Put your baby to sleep on their back

The back to sleep approach to baby sleep has been credited with dramatically reducing the number of cot deaths in the UK and beyond.

Of course babies eventually get to the stage where they start to roll on to their front, which can be stressful for you as a parent when you know the advice is to get them to sleep on their back!

Don’t stay up all night rolling them back onto their back, because you will drive yourself completely mad.

Once they can move from front to back and back again, they can find their own sleep position. Leave them to it. 

Do not smoke

Having a smoker in the house increases the risk of SIDS. Quit the habit and save yourself money and worry!

Do not sleep with your baby on a sofa

This increases the risk of SIDS by 50 times. It’s easy to nod off with your baby in your arms if you are extremely tired. 

Be aware of your own fatigue and put your baby down, or ask for help, if you are at risk of nodding off with them. 

You can help avoid this issue by getting a side cot that attaches to your bed. This way your baby has their own, safe, space to sleep in and you can nod off too. 

Use a dummy

It is not known why but this, and breastfeeding, are associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.

This doesn’t mean you have to use a dummy, but this information should give you peace of mind if you do choose to use one. 

Be aware of co-sleeping risks

Co-sleeping is risky if you or your partner are drink, use drugs, are extremely overtired and if your baby was premature.

However many many parents choose to do this so that they can get some much-needed sleep. Avoid having lots of loose bedding, keep the baby clear of pillows and other bedding that could cover their face. 

Check out this handy bed sharing fact sheet.

Keep your baby in the same room as you at nap and night time

Keeping your baby in the same room as you at all times is the official advice to follow up to six months. 

I confess with my first baby she was out of our room by eight weeks. I slept in a room with our second until seven months because she was a terrible sleeper!

A large study of evidence from across Europe found that the risk of sudden infant death was significantly reduced when the infant slept in the same room, but not the same bed, as the parents.

Pick the right mattress

A firm, flat, waterproof mattress is the best choice for your baby. Look for a mattress that conforms to British safety standards. Avoid using second hand mattresses as they may be saggy from use. 

Check out this buying guide for more information.

Make sure bedding is the right fit

Loose bedding can be a SIDS risk. Pick fitted sheets that fit tightly to the mattress. With blankets, make sure they are tucked in firmly around the baby, underneath the armpits. 

Put baby with their feet to the end of the bed

You sleep with your head next to the headboard, but your baby should be sleeping with their toes closest to the end of the bed.

This is to prevent them wriggling underneath the covers. 

Don’t put toys in the crib

A tiny baby is not going to attach to a toy at a young age anyway. Any loose items in the cot could potentially cover the baby’s head, which is a risk for SIDS. Keep a clear bed to reduce the risk. 

If you do want to introduce a comforter to your baby, choose something that is made from breathable material such as muslin so if it does cover their face it will not suffocate them.

Avoid cot bed bumpers and other loose bedding

You do not need to worry about your baby crashing into the sides of their cot. It happens, they won’t hurt themselves, mine do it all of the time still to this day and mostly don’t even wake up.

Cot bed bumpers can become loose, or tangled up around your baby. This makes them a SIDS risk. Save yourself the money and don’t buy them.

Be especially careful with premature babies

The risk of SIDS in premature babies is higher. It is exacerbated if you co-sleep, so be aware of all safe sleep guidance. 

Dress your baby appropriately

Overheating can be a cause of SIDS, so take care to dress your baby appropriately, especially at night. 

There are tons of helpful charts showing you how many layers your baby should have on depending on the temperature during the night. Check out this one from The Gro Company UK.

The Gro Company also makes Baby sleep bags which I swear by. They come with a guide to what your baby should wear inside them and you can buy different tog ratings depending on the season!

I know this can be a stressful thing, because the temperature is going to drop in the night, right? My answer to that was to have an extra, thin, blanket at hand to pop on top of my baby before I went to bed if the temperature felt like it had dropped already. 

Be careful about baby boxes

These have been praised in Finland as a cause of low SIDs rates. The cardboard baby boxes have routinely been given to every expectant mother since the 1930s in the country. They come with a mattress that fits into the bottom of the box, and are said by some to have helped cut cot deaths. 

However the Lullaby Trust has warned there has been no studies to prove baby boxes are effective at lowering SIDS, and no official studies to show how they should be used effectively. 

Experts have pointed out that cots (with their bars and raised surface) and bassinets or Moses baskets (with low sides) allow infants to be easily seen by parents and may also facilitate air flow, whereas the cardboard box (with its higher opaque sides) does not – carers can see the infant only if they are looking from directly over the box to make sure their child is safe.

Francine Bates, Chief Executive of safe sleeping awareness charity The Lullaby, Trust says: “As a charity that works to reduce the number of SIDS deaths we have previously raised concerns about misleading claims that the use of a cardboard box reduces infant deaths. There is no evidence that directly links the use of a baby box with a reduction in infant mortality or SIDS. We also have reservations about the safety of cardboard baby boxes. We recognise that for some parents, who do not have a cot or Moses basket for their baby, a box may be a better alternative than co-sleeping in high risk circumstances, such as on a sofa. However, we believe the concerns we raised remain valid. It is still not possible for baby boxes to fully comply with British safety standards because no specific standard currently exists for the use of a cardboard box as a sleeping place for an infant. This is why we are pleased that the British Standards Institution have begun developing a new standard for baby boxes and are involving us in this process.”

When can I stop worrying about SIDS

Babies are most at risk of SIDS up to the age of four months. Most SIDS deaths happen within the first six months. The risk dramatically reduces after 12 months.

So, when can you stop worrying about SIDS? You should always follow safe sleep guidelines in infants and toddlers, with particular attention to the mattress standard, overheating dangers and loose bedding or hazards around the cot. 

If you are aware of the risks and create a safe sleep environment for your baby, then you can certainly worry a lot less. It’s hard for me to tell a parent never to worry, because of course we ALL do. If you follow the best guidance, then you can rest assured that you have reduced the risks.

Once your child is 18 months, then you can feel more confident, however please continue to be aware of hazards close to or inside their cot. This includes things like fairy lights, power cords, pictures, and blinds. Once babies start standing in their cot, you need to think about what they could potentially reach and pull into the bed.

I hope this post was useful, rather than too scary. It is a frightening subject but as parents the best way forward is to be armed with the right information and act on that accordingly.

You may also like:

How to get stuff done when you have a baby

15 ways to cope with newborn baby exhaustion

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Preventing SIDS in your newborn baby

when can I stop worrying about SIDS in my newborn baby