Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The furthest thing from any parents’ mind on the birth of their new baby is the possibility that he or she might die. Although it is rare, sadly, more than 300 babies in England and Wales die unexpectedly in their sleep every year. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as “cot death”, is when a baby dies from an unexplained cause, usually aged between 30 days and one year.

Why does it happen?

We don’t yet know why an apparently healthy baby can die in its sleep. However, we do know that there are certain risk factors associated with SIDS, such as the room being too hot, someone smoking in or near the room, falling asleep with the baby on a sofa or an armchair, or sharing a bed with the baby, particularly if the parent has been drinking alcohol or has taken drugs. We also know that it’s more common if the mother is aged under 20, if the baby is premature, and if the baby is a boy.

What can parents do to prevent it?

Since babies spend much of their early life asleep, focusing on safe sleeping is paramount. Chief Medical Officer for Embryocare, Dr Fysh, advises the following:

  1. Put the baby to sleep on its back, on a firm mattress, being careful that there aren’t too many loose blankets that they could pull over their head. We know that, since this advice was officially introduced in 1991, the incidence of cot death in the UK has reduced by 80 per cent.

  2. Whilst it’s advised that parents share a room with their baby in the first six months, research has shown a definite association between co-sleeping – either on a sofa, chair or in a bed – and an increased risk of SIDS. The association is even stronger if the baby was born prematurely or with a low birthweight, and if the parent has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, (including over the counter medicine that can make you sleepy). The Department of Health advises that the best place for the baby is in a cot next to the parent’s bed.

  3. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  1. Research has made a definite link between second hand smoke and an increased risk of SIDS. Therefore, it’s advisable not to smoke anywhere near where the baby sleeps, this can include coming straight into the room after having had a cigarette.

  2. Keeping a consistent temperature in the room, in particular, not letting the baby get too hot, for example by making sure that the baby’s arms are tucked outside of the blanket, can help reduce the risk of SIDS. To check whether they are too hot or too cold, touch their head or tummy, as hands are not the best indicator of this. If their head or tummy feels sweaty, they are too hot.

  3. Report illnesses early. Don’t’ be afraid to seek advice if you think your baby is unwell.
  1. There is some evidence that the use of dummies in the first 6 months of life reduces the risk of SIDS.

What about future babies?

Having suffered the tragic loss of a baby, parents are understandably concerned that this could happen to them again. However, there is no direct evidence to suggest that this will be the case. Lots of work is still being done researching SIDS and what causes it, some of that work suggests that it’s a combination of a part of the brain of the baby that isn’t fully developed combined with environmental factors. Dr Fysh explains: “There is some evidence that the coincidence of some very rare genetic abnormalities and the negative environmental factors may lead to SIDS, but this is still the subject of ongoing research.”

Where to go for support

There are also many support groups available that provide a wealth of information and experiences of other parents who have been through a similar experience.

EmbryoCare Future Family Insurance is a unique policy that provides expectant mothers with added assurance from the 20 week scan* through to their child's second birthday. EmbryoCare aims to ease the financial impact of unforeseen costs that can result from conditions including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

*EmbryoCare's policy can be accessed following a clear 20 week scan from under £6 per month.

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