Co-sleeping with infants increases the risk of sudden infant death

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Government health advisors have stated that falling asleep with your baby in bed or an armchair is extremely risky. This comes after guidance was issued in a bid to reduce the number of babies dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) each year.

SIDS or cot death is when a healthy baby dies without explanation. Around 300 babies die in this manner in the UK each year. The exact causes of death are unknown, however new draft guidelines distributed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have taken cognisance of recent studies which suggest that sharing a bed with an infant may be linked to a higher risk of SIDS.

The new guidance requires that GPs, health visitors and midwives should inform parent that ‘co-sleeping’ may increase the risk.

The dangers are likely to be increased if:

• The parents have recently consumed alcohol
• The parents are smokers
• The parents drug abusers
• The baby was born prematurely
• The baby had a low birth weight.

Studies to this point have only been able to indicate links between the above factors and increased risk and not actual causation.

The Clinical Practice Director at NICE, Professor Mike Baker, said that there is no universal consensus on the causes of SIDS. He said that some parents choose to share their bed with their baby for cultural reasons or it may be easier to breastfeed. Some parents may be forced to sleep with their baby as they do not have sufficient space or the funds for a cot.

He added that it was important for parent to be aware and understand the risks. The new guidance has been based on the best available evidence on this issue.

An added risk to co-sleeping is that parent may roll over whilst asleep and suffocate their babies, however, SIDS deaths are unexplained and are separate to these types of incidents.

The advice from the new guidance is applicable to parents of infants under the age of one year.

The Head of Support and Development at the Lullaby Trust, Jenny Ward, has welcomed the new guidance. She said that it has been agreed universally that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot placed in your bedroom during the first six months of their life. Thereafter, parents may choose to share their bed with their infant. She added that parents should ensure that their babies are put to sleep on their backs, not their fronts.

Image Credit: Scott Granneman

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