Preventing cot death

Parent resources on reducing the risk of cot death

Cot death

Cot death is possibly the one thing that all new parents fear the most. Thankfully it is relatively rare. However, in Scotland, one child suffers cot death every nine days, so it is an important issue for parents to be aware of.

What is cot death?

Cot death is known by many names such as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy), but they all refer to the same thing - the sudden and unexpected death of a previously healthy child where a post-mortem examination fails to find a cause of death. Put simply - these are healthy babies and young children dying for no apparent reason.

Cot deaths can happen wherever a child is sleeping and at any time of day or night. Most cot deaths occur within the first year of life, however, it can occasionally happen to two or three-year-olds.

Cot death is the single biggest cause of infant mortality between one month and 12 months of age.

Who is at risk of cot death?

All babies are potentially at risk, but the risks of cot death are highest in:

  • Male babies
  • Babies aged under six months
  • Babies whose parents smoke (even if they never smoke around the baby)
  • Babies who were born prematurely (before 37 weeks)
  • Babies who weighed less than 5lbs 8oz at birth
  • Babies placed to sleep on their tummies

What advice to give to parents?

Parents should be encouraged to follow the advice contained within the latest reduce the Risk of Cot Death leaflet produced by the Scottish Government. This advice is:

  • Place babies to sleep on their backs
  • The safest place for a baby to sleep at night, during the first six months, is on their back, in a cot in the parents' room
  • Keep babies smoke free during pregnancy and after birth. Almost 70% of cot deaths occur in households where one or more adults smoke
  • Don't share a bed with a baby if either parent smokes; has drunk any alcohol; has taken medication or drugs that could make them sleepy (including illegal drugs and methadone); is unusually tired to the point where they would find it difficult to respond to their baby. The risks associated with bed-sharing are also increased if the baby was born before 37 weeks or weighed less than 5lbs 8oz at birth
  • Don't let babies get too hot during sleep. The ideal room temperature is 18°C
  • Breastfeeding may help to reduce the risks
  • Using a dummy at the start of every period of sleep may help to reduce the risks (if breastfeeding, wait until feeding is well established before offering a dummy)

Sadly, cot death cannot be prevented completely, but by following the safe sleeping advice, parents can do everything they possibly can to reduce the risks of it happening to their child.

Further information