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How to Lessen the Risk of Cot Death in Babies

Updated on June 24, 2013

Cot death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is when a seemingly healthy baby suddenly dies without warning. No one knows why babies die this way. It could be to do with the part of the babies brain which deals with breathing and waking. It may be a combination of things.

Most cases of cot death occur in babies under the age of six months. As your baby gets older, the risk falls. The statistics show that there are more cases of cot deaths for boys than girls. There are also more cases for babies which were born prematurely and for babies with a low birth weight of less than 2.5 kg. It obviously remains something which many parents worry out. Unfortunately, there is no sure way of preventing cot death. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of cot death.

How to put a baby to sleep to reduce the risk of cot death

There are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of cot death with your child. One of the most important things for you to think about is how you put your baby to sleep.

  • Put your baby to sleep on their back. Don't lie them on their front or side. There are less cases of cot death for babies who sleep on their back. Don't worry about your child choking. There is no evidence of babies who sleep on their back choking. You should put your baby to sleep on their back for sleep at night and for daytime naps.
  • Keep toys out of the cot. Your babies cot should be free from hazards. Don't put stuffed toys, pillows, quilts or comforters in with your sleeping baby.
  • Your babies feet should touch the bottom of the cot. If they are touching the bottom, they can't slip down further and go under the blanket. You should make sure that your babies head doesn't get covered up.
  • Don't let your baby get too hot. Overheating has been linked to an increased risk of cot death. Your babies room should be at a temperature that feels comfortable, but not too warm. Your babies cot shouldn't be next to a heater or in direct sunlight.
  • Don't share your bed with your baby. If you sleep in the same bed as your baby, there is a risk that you might roll over on to your baby while you sleep. When it is time for your baby to sleep, place them in the cot next to your bed.
  • Give your baby a pacifier when they go to sleep. There has been research that shows that a pacifier can reduce the risk of cot death. Reasons why they help are unclear, but the studies suggest that they can help. Many people stop giving a pacifier when a baby is between six and twelve months, as using one too much can cause dental problems.

Smoking and cot death

Don't smoke during pregnancy and don't let people smoke near your baby. Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of cot death. Smoking around children can be particularly harmful. Don't let anyone smoke cigarettes in the same room as your baby. You should even stop anyone from smoking in the next room if it is likely to pollute the air your baby breathes.

Illness and cot death

Cot deaths can occur when a child is asleep. Sometimes there are no symptoms so a parent might not know anything is wrong. Sometimes though an illness can go unchecked. It's important that you keep a close watch on your babies health. Take your baby for regular check-ups and you should see a doctor if they seem unwell. Some symptoms you should watch for include:

  • Vomiting, particularly green vomit
  • Baby taking less milk
  • Unusual, high-pitched crying
  • Floppy and unresponsive
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever and sweating
  • Baby looks blue
  • Blood in the nappies
  • Rash

Can breast-feeding prevent cot death?

There has been research which shows that breast-fed babies have a reduced risk of cot death. This may because babies which are breast-fed have fewer illnesses, compared to babies who are fed formula milk. There may be other reasons too.

Should I be worried about cot death?

The chance of cot death occurring significantly drops after about six months. Try not to worry about it too much, but taking the above precautions may help reduce the risk. What is particularly is that you put your baby to sleep on their back.


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    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

      This happened to my childhood friend with her third child, in the US its called SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). She was in her forties when she had the baby, and he was a boy. He was being treated by a doctor because she thought she heard a rumbling in his chest, and was having some trouble breathing. He lived for 2 weeks, and we were all just heartbroken. Her two older children were so upset too. The marriage broke up about a year later, most marriages don't survive the loss of a child. But the advice here is quite good. I always thought the doctor wasn't taking her seriously enough. Since she already had been a Mother to two children, she was experienced and knew something was not right. That was the hardest part. New parents are always nervous, so we don't want to scare them more, but it is important to check on the infant at night, and not to have anyone smoking. Some doctors seem to brush women off.