Giving a baby a dummy when they go to sleep may reduce their risk of cot death by 90%, a US study says.
Dummies may keep the airways clear, researchers say
It compared 185 cases of sudden infant death syndrome with 312 healthy babies and adjusted for known risk factors.
The British Medical Journal study found the benefit was greatest for children sleeping in an "adverse" environment.
It said dummies may help stop babies from cutting off their air supply. UK experts welcomed the research, but stressed it was a small study.
HOW TO REDUCE COT DEATH RISK
Put your baby to sleep on its back
Do not expose your child to smoke
Keep your baby cool, with its head uncovered
Parents should not share a bed with their baby if they are very tired, smoke or have been drinking or taking drugs which make you drowsy. But the baby should be in a cot in the same room for at least the first six months
The adverse conditions included babies sleeping in a house where both parents smoked.
Cot death rates have fallen in recent years, but it still claims the lives of 300 babies aged under a year old in the UK every year.
The researchers, from healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, say that approximately one in 2,000 babies die of cot death in California.
But, if all babies used a dummy, they calculate the risk would be one in 20,000.
They say the key may be the fact that dummies usually have a bulky external handle.
This may help to prevent a child from cutting off its air supply by burying its face into soft bedding, or an overlaying object such as a blanket.
Writing the BMJ, they also say sucking on a dummy may enhance the development of pathways in the brain that control how airways in the upper respiratory system work.
Previous research has also suggested the use of dummies can cut the risk of cot death - but not to the same extent.
The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) recommends that if a baby is using a dummy regularly then it is best to carry on.
Two research studies published since 2000 showed that babies who usually use a dummy but then stop are at an increased risk of cot death on the night they do not use it.
However, the charity said statistical analysis was very complicated, and the findings required careful study.
In a statement, FSID said: "Our advice is that it there is no reason for parents not to use a dummy but if they do, they must use it every time the baby sleeps and never forget to give the baby the dummy."
The charity also recommended:
- A dummy should not be coated in a sweet solution
- It can be taken away when the baby is about 12 months old
- If a mother is breastfeeding, it might be best to wait a month or so before introducing a dummy
Heather Neil, a post-natal tutor with the National Childbirth Trust, said: "This study may well add to what we will eventually know about [sudden infant death syndrome], but case control studies trying to isolate single factors demand larger numbers than have been recruited here, and this study does not tell us why dummies appear to have the effect they found.
"So while the NCT welcomes all research into this topic, on the basis of this study, we really can't say that parents should do anything different from the current 'reduce the risk' guidance."