Babies and children

Co-sleeping a risk factor for cot death

Co-sleeping a risk factor for cot deaths Two thirds of cases occurred when sleeping with a parent

Nearly two thirds of babies who died suddenly were sleeping with their parent at the time, research by a children's hospital has found.

The findings add to those of other studies which suggest that co-sleeping is a risk factor for cot death.

In the latest study, published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, specialists from Great Ormond Street Hospital analysed autopsy data from 1,516 suspected cot deaths which occurred between 1996 and 2005. All of the babies were less than one year old at the time of death.

Of these, 546 met the criteria for sudden unexpected death of an infant (SUDI), and the sleeping arrangements recorded in 314 cases.

Almost two thirds (59%) of the unexplained deaths were linked to co-sleeping in babies less than six months old. Around 18 per cent of babies had been sleeping with a parent on a sofa.

However, in some cases the researchers lacked information on whether the parents smoked or were drinking alcohol, also known risk factors for cot death.

Prof Neil Sebire, who led the study, said: "The results of our study show that co-sleeping was involved in nearly two thirds of all SUDI infants referred to Great Ormond Street for autopsy.

"Several international studies have shown an increased risk for babies, less than four months old, who co-sleep with a non-smoking mother, but it is only in the last two years that data on risk factors has been routinely collected by local UK agencies."

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) called for the collection and publication of local and national infant death data to help further research into cot death.

Frances Bates, chief executive at FSID said: "The new study strengthens what previous research has shown, that co-sleeping is associated with a significant number of unexpected deaths of babies in the UK, but it also highlights the need for more research which examines the relationship between co-sleeping and other risk factors."

Reduce the risk of cot death (FSID)

  • Cut smoking in pregnancy – fathers too! And don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
  • Place your baby on the back to sleep (and not on the front or side)
  • Do not let your baby get too hot, and keep your baby’s head uncovered
  • Place your baby with their feet to the foot of the cot, to prevent them wriggling down under the covers, or use a baby sleep bag
  • Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair
  • The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a crib or cot in a room with you for the first six months
  • Breastfeed your baby. Establish breastfeeding before starting to use a dummy

It’s especially dangerous for your baby to sleep in your bed if you (or your partner):

  • Are a smoker, even if you never smoke in bed or at home
  • Have been drinking alcohol
  • Take medication or drugs that make you drowsy
  • Feel very tired

Or if your baby:

  • Was born before 37 weeks
  • Weighed less than 2.5kg or 5½ lbs at birth
  • Is less than 4 months old

Settling your baby to sleep (day and night) with a dummy can reduce the risk of cot death, even if the dummy falls out while your baby is asleep.

This article was published on Tue 25 October 2011

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