Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or cot death, is rare, but apparently healthy babies are still found lifeless in bed, with no warning at all.
Perhaps you have also rushed heart-in-mouth to your sleeping baby to check that he or she is still breathing, alive and well. Sudden infant death is very rare, but devastating if it does happen.
The biggest risk is before the age of six months
The baby stops breathing or its heart stops beating, but the cause is unknown. What is known is that there are several ways of at least reducing the risk.
In recent years in Sweden, 20 babies a year have died of SIDS, or 1 child in 6000. The number of deaths was reduced significantly following campaigns for small babies to always sleep on their backs.
The risk of SIDS is highest before the age of six months.
Eight recommendations for reducing the risk of SIDS
• Babies should sleep on their backs. A number of studies clearly indicate that the risk of SIDS is reduced if the baby sleeps on its back.
• Do not smoke near your child. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death is two to three times higher if a baby is exposed to tobacco smoke, and it will also be more susceptible to airways infections and asthma.
• You should also avoid intake of other types of tobacco such as snuff, and also nicotine chewing gum and nicotine patches if you are breastfeeding. Nicotine goes into breast milk and can affect your baby's respiratory centre (the part of the brain that controls breathing).
• breastfeeding. Breast milk is believed to reduce the risk of virus infections, which are associated with an increased risk of SIDS. A child who is breastfed also wakes more readily if its breathing suddenly stops.
• Put baby in her own bed or a bed-in-bed, meaning a co-sleeping enclosure for placing directly in the adult bed. An infant under three months should sleep in its own bed, but try to place it adjacent to your or your partner's bed.
• Give baby a dummy at bedtime. Dummies (pacifiers, soothers) have been shown to offer some protection against SIDS, although the reason is unknown. However, avoid giving baby a dummy until breastfeeding has stabilised.
• Check that your baby has the right temperature when she sleeps. Infants need to be able to move around and not be wearing too many clothes. Check if the back of baby's neck is damp, and remove her clothing if she is overheating.
• Make sure that your baby always sleeps with her face free, and that there's no smothering risk from the pillow or quilt. Don't keep lots of soft objects like cuddly toys in your baby's cot.
Place baby tummy down when awake to aid development
When baby is able to roll over onto her tummy unaided, it's time to let her spend waking hours on her side or front. This is good for baby's development and builds her muscles. Different positions also prevent baby's head from flattening at the back or on one side. Gently turn baby to lie on her back if she falls asleep.
It's reassuring to know that infants can turn their heads to the side if they sick up in bed. When your baby has grown so much she can roll over unaided, you can then let her sleep tummy down.
Good sleep habits
Create routines for your baby
Helping your baby to sleep soundly
Baby's sleep, 3–6 months
Baby's sleep, 6–8 months