Sleep - not normally a bad thing. In fact, for the parents of a young baby, it can be considered a godsend. But as a children's nurse I'm sadly all too aware that there can be a tragic side to sleep: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
This tragic condition is the most common cause of death in infants aged between one month and a year, with 90% of cases occurring before the child has reached nine months. More common in boys than girls, the rates vary throughout the developed world range from just one in ten thousand in some countries to - more worryingly - one in a thousand in others.
Sadly, in many cases it is simply due to natural causes and can't be prevented. However, there are things that parents can do to reduce the risks. The Lullaby Trust runs Safer Sleep Week (14 - 20 March) for exactly this reason - to raise awareness of the best ways to protect children from SIDS. With parents under 25 four times more likely to lose a child this way than older parents, this year's campaign is particularly focussed on helping young people understand the intricacies of the condition.
There are various things for parents to consider. Sleeping methods, unsurprisingly, play a key role. While it is common practice for parents to have their young baby in bed with them, this actually carries unforeseen risks, and NICE guidance reflects the increased chance of SIDS in babies who sleep in the same bed as their parents or siblings.
Sharing a bed with warm adults or older children can raise a baby's temperature to dangerous levels, not to mention the risks of falling or suffocation. New parents, exhausted from the strains of caring for a young child can also fall into deep sleep, making them less likely to wake if their baby is struggling.
Though it is safest for parents to sleep close to their new baby, a cot or Moses basket nearby is a much better choice. Parents can improve conditions further by ensuring the bed has a firm, flat mattress and no loose bedding. Sleeping position can also play a role - babies should always sleep on their backs, with their covers pulled no higher than their shoulders.
Equally important, parents have to be careful not to fall asleep themselves when sitting with the baby in a chair or on sofa; this can pose similar risks to sharing a bed. It's also crucial to keep the baby away from cigarette smoke: tobacco fumes can greatly heighten the chance of SIDS in young babies, as well as causing a wealth of health issues in the future. Breastfeeding is also an easy way to help to reduce the risk.
There is currently a lack of awareness around SIDS and ways to prevent it, but times are slowly changing. Children's nurses like myself will be working hard to get the word out there and, with the help of charities like the Lullaby Trust, we can all help parents to learn about this issue and do all they can to prevent this tragic condition.
For more information or to get involved with Safer Sleep Week visit the Lullaby Trust website.