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Monday, 15 November, 1999, 11:34 GMT
Stomach-sleeping theory could explain cot death
Babies should be placed on their backs, say experts
Infants who are not used to sleeping on their stomachs may be more prone to cot death if placed in that position, according to experts.

The study, conducted by New Zealand scientists and published in a prestigious US journal, may help to explain why stomach-sleeping can lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

It suggests that babies less-used to lying on their stomachs may have greater trouble getting themselves out of potentially lethal suffocating positions.

Parents have been advised in recent years to lay younger babies on their backs, and the rate of cot death has subsequently fallen significantly.

The study looked at 485 infants who died of SIDS over a three year period in New Zealand.

Majority found face down

Researchers found that while babies who were usually placed on their stomachs still had an increased risk of cot death, those for whom prone sleeping was a novelty were at far greater risk.

The vast majority of those babies found with their faces turned into the bedding - suggesting suffocation as a possible cause - were usually placed on their backs.

Low birthweight babies are at higher risk
The researchers commented: "Lack of experience with a potentially dangerous sleep environment can result in increased risk when these environments are first encountered."

They said that babies who slept on their backs might acquire the motor skills to lift their heads up later than those who slept face down.

The advice to lay babies on their backs has made a marked impact on the rate of cot death in several countries. Some years ago, received wisdom was that face-down sleeping was better for babies.

Other tips for parents to minimise the risk include giving babies firmer bedding materials, breast rather than bottle feeding, making sure babies do not overheat, particular when they are unwell, and giving up smoking, particularly around the baby.

Nearly all cases of SIDS occur when the child is less than six months old, and premature or low birthweight babies are at higher risk. The children of younger mothers appear to be at higher risk.

Joyce Epstein, Secretary General of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, said: "Babies who sleep on their backs are safer and healthier than if they sleep on their sides or front.

"If your baby has rolled onto their tummy, turn them onto their back again and tuck them in, but don't feel you have to get up all night to check.

"At about five or six months it is normal for babies to roll over but still put them on their back to sleep".

See also:

07 Jan 99 | Health
Abuse blamed for some cot deaths
25 Feb 99 | Health
Cot death error 'costs lives'
05 Aug 99 | Health
Cot death rate falls
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