Sudden Infant Deaths Have Halved Since 2004 – And This Could Be Why

The term ‘cot death’ is no longer used, due to the suggestion that it can only happen when a baby is in its cot.
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Sudden infant deaths, where babies die unexpectedly before their first birthday, have halved since 2004, according to a report from the Office of National Statistics.

Records of what used to be called ‘cot death’ began in 2004, when the rate was 0.5 deaths per 1,000 births (i.e. one in 2,000 infants). The 2017 figure is 0.27 per 1,000 births – more like one in 4,000. The total figure for 2017 across England and Wales was 183 deaths.

The drop is thought to be down to parents taking on advice about better sleep practices, as well as fewer parents smoking – which is said to be a “large risk factor”.

The term ‘cot death’ is no longer used, due to the suggestion that it can only happen when a baby is in its cot. The term now used is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

There are some risk factors for SIDS that are unavoidable, the researchers noted. Five times more babies born weighing less than 2.5kg died than larger babies (although, it is worth pointing out that even multiplied by five, it still remains a very unlikely occurrence). The unexplained infant mortality rate is also generally higher for younger mothers, they found.

Responding to the statistics, SIDS charity The Lullaby Trust warned against complacency, emphasising that while this improvement is to be embraced, there is still a way to go. Jenny Ward, CEO, said: “Whilst it is extremely good news that SIDS has gone down in England and Wales, 183 babies’ lives lost is still too many.

“It is vitally important that all parents have access to up-to-date advice. It is essential that all professionals who work with babies and new parents are aware of how to practise safer sleep and able to pass that advice on to parents.”

The charity also expressed concern that “inadequate services” for new parents caused by cuts to local authorities could be partly responsible for the deaths that still occur. “With a fall in the number of health visitors and early years services, we are concerned that not all families are receiving adequate support after the birth of their child,” said Ward.

“We strongly urge local authorities to make adequate funding for staff who provide crucial support and advice to new families a top priority.”

Safe sleep advice for babies:

:: The NHS advises that the safest place for a baby to sleep in the first six months of its life is in a cot in the same room as its parents.

:: Babies should be placed on their backs, with their feet at the bottom of the cot.

:: Sharing a bed is not recommended, particularly if you have been drinking, are smokers, are obese or simply extraordinarily tired – although, if you do choose to co-sleep, the Lullaby Trust has guidelines on how to do it as safely as possible.

:: Maintaining a room temperature of between 16 and 20 degrees and keeping the cot free from clutter and loose bedding are also advised.

For more information, head to The Lullaby Trust website.