Baby News

SIDS: Don't Wait For Your Own Reason to Follow the Rules

Friday 24th of May 2013  |  Category: Baby News  |  Written by: Siobhan Thomas

Analysis published in the BMJ Open this week concluded that bed sharing with parents is linked to a fivefold increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Reaction to this advice has been surprisingly mixed and I was concerned by the suggestions from some women that they would continue to co-sleep regardless of the new findings.

The key factors attributed to increasing the risk of cot death (the common term for SIDS) have long been promoted by the NHS and various health organisations and charities, and the results of people changing their behaviour have been staggering:

The Stats:

  • 1980s - 1 in 500 live-born babies died of SIDS
  • 2000 - 1 in 1,800 live-born babies died of SIDS
  • 2010 - 1 in 2,700 live-born babies died of SIDs

What led to the decline?

As more research was done into cot death, clear risk factors became evident in terms of increasing the chances of it happening.

The big decline in numbers of deaths came about when the health authorities started advising people to put their baby on their back to sleep. But campaigns also highlighted other actions that parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS. The current advice, according to The Lullaby Trust, is as follows:

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep
  • Keep your baby smoke free during pregnancy and after birth
  • Place your baby to sleep in a separate cot or Moses basket in the same room as you for the first 6 months
  • Breastfeed your baby, if you can
  • Use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in good condition
  • Never sleep on a sofa or in an armchair with your baby
  • Avoid letting your baby get too hot
  • Don't cover your baby's face or head while sleeping or use loose bedding
  • Don't sleep in the same bed as your baby if you smoke, drink or take drugs or are extremely tired, if your baby was born prematurely or was of low birth-weight

This last point is now being reviewed by The Lullaby Trust in light of the latest research. It seems safe to say, however, that they will revise the advice to suggest that co-sleeping is to be avoided.

Will this stop women co-sleeping with their babies?

baby sleeping

I assume it will make many women change their mind about plans to co-sleep, but those who are already in the practice of sleeping with their little one will no doubt find it a hard routine to change, and this I understand to a degree. But ultimately, if you're told that co-sleeping increases the risks of your baby actually dying surely it is worth the hassle & sleepless nights you might face in getting them used to sleeping in a cot or a moses basket?

One mother on mumsnet said 'My co-sleeping, breastfeeding days are over but for me one would not have been possible without the other'. Well of course that's easy to say in hindsight, but had the research been conducted earlier might it, or at least ought it to have changed her mind?

What is worrying is the number of people who take the 'I did it and it caused my baby no harm' approach and use it to justify repeating the activity. Well people used to smoke through pregnancy, and drink through pregnancy, and it did lots of us no harm - but for many it caused irreversible health damage, premature births and still births. Justifying risky behaviour because you did it without any problems 'before the research came out to say it was unsafe' is utterly ludicrous.

Difficult changes for the sake of a small risk?

Sure, a lot of the advice to reduce the chances of SIDS means inconvenience. Some babies are more comfortable sleeping on their tummies, breastfeeding isn't something all women are comfortable with and those who do breastfeed often say that co-sleeping makes it much easier.

The other point that I recognise entirely is that we're talking about a pretty small risk factor here. Babies that co-sleep with their parents are 5 times more likely to die of cot death - but this statistic is based on parents who avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs. So the babies in these families are already at a very low risk: 5 x very low, is still very low.

So yes, the risks are slim, but what you are risking is huge. We are talking about the risk of your baby dying. Who gives a monkeys what the chances are, why doesn't everyone want to do all they can to minimise the risk?

It shouldn't take first-hand experience to make you do it by the book

...but I fear that it often does. And I can relate to this logic that so many of us are unaware we are even adhering to.

With our children we followed the standard guidance talked about above, we were aware of the risks and did our best to minimise them. I didn't find the rules that restrictive, but I admit they weren't always convenient. Out of fear of falling asleep in the bed with my babies I always got up and fed them in a chair at night. When our second daughter was 7 weeks old she suffered a sudden unexplained lifeless episode, later to be explained in layman's terms to us as 'had she died, this would have been recorded as cot death'. The only reason she didn't die is because, by some miracle, we were at a clinic when it happened and she was in my arms. She received emergency medical treatment and was rushed to hospital in an instant, after days of tests there was nothing showing as 'wrong' with her whatsoever - hence the 'unexplained' tag to the episode.

Inevitably we were left shocked and paranoid about a repeat occurrence happening at night or when she was sleeping out of our sight. The lengths I then went to for the sake of her safety were extreme, and not advisable to anyone. However, the point is that I made every effort, sacrificing many conveniences that we had previously been used to (we had two motion sensors for her to sleep on in the house, we changed our car so that she could have her seat in the front, I stopped using the double pram with her sister because the bassinet faced away from me and I couldn't see her - and the list goes on, I warned you I went overboard!).

So my behaviour was a little extreme, but it was driven by a personal brush with SIDS. There are so many people out there refusing to take on the advice about co-sleeping that I fear they too will need a real life experience closer to home to prompt them into taking the advice seriously.

Eva Andreotti shares a bed with her 18 month old son and was undeterred by the BMJ analysis, 'I tried to make an informed decision, and even in view of the recent report I would make the decision [to co-sleep] again' she said. Had I not had been so aware of SIDS after our daughter's episode, I might have thought nothing of her comment, but now it seems unfathomable to me.

The message from the latest data is clear: co-sleeping is more dangerous than not co-sleeping, however hard breaking the habit might be (for you or your baby) the benefits have got to be worth it. Don't wait for more statistics to persuade you on the matter.

Site Links

This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.