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What is Cot Death? (SIDS) - Causes, Prevention and Risks

Cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), is rare but heartbreaking.

Around 300 babies a year in the UK die suddenly, usually in the first six months of life. But increasingly we know how to reduce the risks.

what is cot death and sudden infant death syndrome

What is Cot Death?

When a seemingly healthy baby suddenly dies, with no clear explanation, we call it cot death or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Usually, it happens when a baby is sleeping, although it can sometimes also occur when they're awake.

Most deaths from SIDS happen from birth to six months. Infants born prematurely or with a low birth weight appear to be at a slightly increased risk.

SIDS also seems to be a bit more common among boys.


What Causes Cot Death?

The exact cause isn't known, but experts believe it may have its origins in how babies regulate their heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

Some babies may be vulnerable to stresses in their environment in the early months of life.

Tobacco smoke, getting tangled up in loose bedding, sickness or trouble breathing may be among the triggers for SIDS.

There also seems to be an association between co-sleeping and cot death.


How Can I Prevent Cot Death?

Although the causes of sudden infant death syndrome aren't fully understood, there are ways you can help to protect your baby:

  • Place your baby to sleep on their back in a ‘feet to foot’ position – so their feet touch the end of the cot
  • Make sure your baby’s head is uncovered
  • Put your baby’s bed in the same room as you for the first six months
  • Use a new mattress that's waterproof, as well as flat and firm
  • Breastfeed your baby (if you can)

  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Risk Factors

    As well as the points on cot death prevention above, there are certain risk factors which you can avoid, including:

  • Smoking during or after pregnancy, or letting others smoke around your baby
  • Sharing a bed with your baby or falling asleep holding them
  • Sharing a bed with your baby if you've been drinking alcohol
  • Sharing a bed with your baby if you or your partner smoke or take drugs
  • Letting your baby get too hot or cold. Aim for the room to be 16-20C and use lightweight bedding

  • My Baby is Unwell – What Should I Do?

    It’s common for babies to get minor illnesses, most of which you needn't worry about.

    Make sure your baby drinks plenty of fluids and keep them from getting overheated.

    If you're worried about your baby at any point, see your GP or call the non-emergency number NHS 111 for advice.

    However, if your baby seems seriously ill, if they are struggling for breath, won’t wake up or have a fit, then dial 999 for an ambulance.


    Cot Death (SIDS) Advice and Support

    Many people who have been affected by SIDS find it helps to talk to people who have had similar experiences.

  • The Lullaby Trust provides specialist advice and support for bereaved families on their helpline 0808 802 6868.
  • Babyloss and Sands also offer help to anyone affected by the death of a baby.

  • Read More:

  • Who to Call When Your Baby is Ill
  • How to Calm a Crying Baby
  • How to Baby Proof Your House