Yep, it sends a shudder down your spine. Cot death is a phrase some mums react to by trawling the internet for statistics and facts, buying up baby magazines and books by the trolley-load for advice and generally wearing themselves out with worry and angst. Others find it too upsetting to think about so they go into denial mode instead. Neither strategy makes much sense. Does either ring a bell?
The bad news is that seven babies a week die from cot death, but the good news is there's lots you can do to make sure your baby has such a tiny, tiny risk factor you couldn't even spot it on the smallest pinhead. This is a good time of year to gen up on all of the facts, as the risk is slightly higher in winter.
Once you've taken heed of our advice, you can relax in the knowledge you're doing everything possible to protect your baby. And remember, worrying yourself sick won't do either of you any good.
Keep them close
Until your baby's 6 months, he should sleep in a cot in your room. While it's lovely bringing him into your bed for a feed, it's safer to put him back in his cot before you sleep. There's a risk of rolling onto him, or your baby falling out of bed or getting stuck between the wall and the bed. It's even more important to put him back in his cot if you or your partner:
- are smokers, no matter where or when you smoke
- hit the booze before bedtime
- have taken tablets or drugs that make you sleep more heavily
- are very tired.
Breathing in cigarette smoke, either before birth or after, shoots his risk factor sky high.
- Cut smoking in pregnancy and ask your partner to give up, too.
- Don't let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.
- Ask visitors to smoke outside.
- Don't take your baby into smoky places and keep him out of smoky atmospheres.
- For help with stopping, call Quitline on 0800 002200.
Remove winter clothes
Take off hats and extra clothing as soon as you come indoors or enter a shop, even if it means waking your baby. Buses, trains or cars can get very hot, too, so remove all outdoor clothing, including jumpers, hats and padded snowsuits.
Back to sleep
Put your baby to sleep on his back. Place him with his feet to the foot of the cot, with the bedding tucked in. This stops him from wriggling down under the covers and getting too hot. Some babies will roll onto their tummies. If this happens, turn him on his back and tuck him in again, but don't feel you have to keep getting up at night to check. As babies get older they'll often fidget into other sleeping positions, but this is less of a problem once they've passed the 2-3 month stage.
Not on the sofa
It's dangerous to sleep together on a sofa or armchair. Babies can slip into the crack between the cushions or between the cushions and the sofa back and you may roll on top of your baby. If you're sitting on the sofa and feel tired, put your baby in his cot.
Even in winter, your baby doesn't need extra bedding. Just use a couple of light blankets. If he feels warm, remove a layer or two.
For babies under a year:
- don't use a duvet, quilt or pillow
- do use one or more layers of lightweight blankets.
If you use a sheepskin, take it away as soon as your baby starts trying to roll on to his tummy. If you use a baby sleeping bag, it needs to be without a hood, lightweight and the right size around the neck so your baby won't slip down inside the bag.
During winter when the heating is turned up and the windows are shut, take care your baby doesn't get too hot. Young babies can't control their body heat, so you need to do it for him. Check her tummy and back of her neck - if they're clammy, she's too hot. If her hands and feet are cool to the touch, don't worry - that's normal. Don't wrap your baby in layer upon layer of clothing and check regularly that she isn't too hot. Remember to take off layers when on transport, as well as indoors.
Switch the heating off at night unless there's a really Arctic spell. The ideal temperature for a baby's room is between 16-20°C (60.8-68°F). Use a room thermometer in the room where your baby sleeps and plays and check it regularly.
Don't let her sleep:
- with a hot water bottle
- with an electric blanket
- next to a radiator, heater or fire
- in direct sunshine.
Don't wait if you're worried
If your baby is unwell, seek medical advice promptly, especially if he:
- has a high-pitched or weak cry; is unusually floppy/unresponsive
- looks pale, grunts with each breath, struggles to breathe
- won't take fluids, vomits green fluid or passes blood in his poo
- has a fever - a temperature over 37°C (98.6°F) with sweating.
Dial 999 if your baby:
- stops breathing or goes blue
- has glazed eyes and does not focus on anything
- can't be woken
- has a fit - even if your baby recovers, still see your doctor.
Help is on the way
Doctors may soon be able to spot babies at risk of cot death and do more to protect them. A Scottish study has found babies are especially vulnerable if their mums have a high level of a certain protein in their blood during pregnancy. Called Alpha Feto Protein, this marker shows the placenta isn't working as well as it should, causing problems for the babies before they're born. It may soon be possible to monitor at-risk babies during their first year. Medical advice still recommends you put your baby on his back to sleep, keep the room temperature under control and avoid cigarette smoke.
For more info:
- Call the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) on 0870 787 0554 or visit the website at www.sids.org.uk/fsid. FSID also sells room thermometers, which cost £2.75.
- Talk to your health visitor or doctor.
- Call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/.