Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Q&A: Cot death

Nobody knows what causes cot death

The unexpected death of a baby must rank among the most tragic and stressful events that anybody can endure.

Public education campaigns have helped cut the number of cot deaths in the UK - but too many people are still suffering terrible loss.

What is cot death?

Cot death - known technically as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby for no obvious reason.

What causes it?

Nobody knows for sure. Most experts believe a number of factors probably contribute.

The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot by the side of the parents' bed for the first six months
You can take your baby to bed for a feed or cuddle - but never leave it there
Put your baby to sleep on its back
CPS:LINK HREF="" ID="4623376" STYLE="rightarrow">'My baby son died suddenly'

Deaths certainly appear to be more common in households where the mother smokes.

Some believe the growth of fungus on a baby's mattress may play a role in some deaths.

Another theory is that some cases are linked to infection the common bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, which causes gastric ulcers and cancer in adults.

There is also a strong body of research linking cot death to the practice of putting babies to sleep on their stomachs.

This might be because babies have not yet developed the upper body muscle strength to keep their heads lifted from the pillow, and their airways unobstructed.

How can you reduce the risk?

Nobody can completely rule out the possibility of a tragedy. However, there are a number of steps you can take to minimise risk:

  • Both parents should avoid smoking during pregnancy

  • Don't expose your baby to tobacco smoke - in particular do not smoke in the same room

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep

  • Don't allow your baby to get too hot

  • Keep your baby's head uncovered - their feet should be to the foot of the cot to stop them wriggling down under the covers

  • Never fall asleep with your baby on the sofa

  • Do not share your bed with your baby if you or your partner: smoke; have been drinking alcohol; are taking medication or drugs that causes drowsiness; or are excessively tired.

  • Put your baby's cot in your bedroom for the first six months

  • Seek medical advice promptly if your baby is unwell

Who is most at risk?

The risk seems to be greater in boys, premature babies and those of low birth weight.

Most cot deaths occur when the baby is under the age of six months.

Since 1991, the number of cot deaths has fallen by 75%, but seven babies still die every week as cot deaths in the UK.

It is the leading kind of death in babies aged between one month and one year.

However, nearly 90% of cot deaths have occurred by six months, and very few occur after a year.

At what time of year do cot deaths occur?

Cot deaths can occur at any time of year but they tend to be more frequent in the winter months.

video and audio news
A mother describes how her baby died on her sofa

'It all happened so suddenly'
18 Jan 06 |  Health

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