Reducing the risk of cot death

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently well infant.

Cot death is rare but there are some factors which are associated with SIDS and the advice listed below provides guidance on how you can help to reduce the risk to your baby. The advice below should be followed at all times.

  • Ideally your baby should sleep in a cot beside your own bed for the first six months.
  • Place your baby on its back to sleep. This is the safest position for your baby to sleep in.
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered - place your baby with their feet to the foot of the cot, to prevent wriggling down under the covers (remember: 'feet to foot') and do not use cot bumpers​.
  • Babies should sleep on a mattress which is firm and flat. Waterbeds and beanbags are not suitable.
  • Never sleep with your baby on an armchair or sofa.
  • When you check your baby, if they are sweating or their tummy feels hot to the touch, take off some of the bedding. Don’t worry if hands or feet feel cool, this is normal.
  • Use lightweight blankets. If your baby feels too warm, reduce the number of layers. Do not use a duvet, quilt or pillow for babies under 12 months.
  • Babies should never sleep with a hot water bottle or electric blanket, next to a radiator, heater or fire, or in direct sunshine.
  • Remove hats and extra clothing as soon as you come indoors or enter a warm bus, train or shop, even if it means waking your baby.
  • Do not let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby. Better still: do not permit any smoking in the house. Ideally, encourage those concerned to give up smoking altogether!
  • Do not share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking, smoking (if either you or your partner smokes) or if you are taking medication that makes you feel sleepy.

It is possible that using a dummy at the start of every sleep period reduces the risk of cot death. However, the evidence is not strong and not all experts agree that dummies should be promoted. Do not give your baby a dummy until breastfeeding is well established, usually when the baby is one month old. Stop giving them a dummy when they’re between six and 12 months old. Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.

Do not let your baby get too hot or too cold. Ideally room temperature should be between 16 and 20 degrees centigrade. (See table below).

Room temperature  Amount of bedding
14°C sheet plus three or four layers of blankets
16°C sheet plus three layers of blankets
18°C sheet plus two layers of blankets
20°C sheet plus one or two layers of blankets
22°C sheet plus one layer of blankets or sheet only
24°C sheet only

Bedding guidelines for babies wearing a nappy, vest and babygro.


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