Whilst incidences of cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as it is officially known, have dropped dramatically over the past ten years, SIDS still claims the lives of up to 45 New Zealand babies each year.
SIDS is the name given to all sudden deaths of otherwise healthy babies, that is not attributed to any other illness of disease. Babies who die from SIDS are usually healthy babies, and in most cases an autopsy is unable to determine a specific cause of death. As a result, the causes of SIDS remain a mystery, however much research has been done, and continues to be done, and the number of babies who die from SIDS is continuing to drop as more and more risk factors are identified and addressed.
The most common age for SIDS to strike is between 2-4 months of age, although it can occur any time. SIDS rarely affects infants under one month of age, or over six months of age.
Some babies are at higher risk than others, and there are precautions you can take to keep your baby safe when he or she is sleeping.
Babies at higher risk of SIDS include:
- Those whose mothers smoked during pregnancy
- Those born with a low birth weight (less than 2500g)
- Male babies
- Those who share a house with a smoker who smokes inside
- Those who bed-share with an adult/s, especially if the adult is a smoker, has been drinking, or has taken drugs
- Those who sleep on their tummy or side
- Those who are not breastfed.
You can help to protect your baby from SIDS.
- Put your baby to sleep on his/her back. This is safer for most babies, unless you have been advised otherwise by your midwife or doctor. If you are worried about your baby developing a flat head, you can turn his/her head to alternate sides at each sleep.
- Don't smoke, and don't allow smoking inside your house or around your baby. If you do smoke, it is safest to smoke outside, away from baby.
- Breastfeed your baby where possible, for as long as possible
- Have regular Well Child checks with your Plunket Nurse, doctor or other Well Child provider
- Immunise your baby - as well as protecting your child against nasty diseases, some research has shown that babies who are immunised have a lower incidence of SIDS.
- Don't sleep in the same bed as your baby, especially if you smoke. Baby is safest in his/her own cot or bassinette.
- Put baby to bed with his/her feet at the end of the cot. This will help to stop baby from wriggling underneath the blankets.
There are also a variety of products designed to help protect against SIDS, ranging from baby monitors and cradle alarms, to sleep wraps and sleeping bags that stop your baby rolling over in his or her sleep. For more information about these products talk to your midwife, Plunket Nurse, or local baby goods retailer.
Most importantly, trust your judgement as a parent. If you feel that something is not right with your baby, take him/her to the doctor.