Children can suffocate if something covers their nose and mouth. This can happen when your baby is asleep, presses their face against material or if something clings onto their face.
Suffocation can happen when a child gets caught between the mattress and the cot or bed.
Suffocation is an example of asphyxia. Asphyxia happens when someone cannot breathe properly and oxygen does not reach the body's organs. It is one of the most common causes of childhood deaths.
Emergency action required: Call 112 or 999:
- your child is having breathing difficulties or any other medical emergency
Always keep your baby's cot or crib clear.
Never place soft objects or anything loose or fluffy in it, such as:
- sleep positioners
- bedding rolls
- comfort blankets
Use cellular aerated blankets. These allow air to circulate.
Make sure your child's mattress is firm, flat and fits the cot correctly. This prevents your child's head or limbs getting trapped in a gap between the mattress and the edge of the cot or bed.
Bed-sharing and co-sleeping
Bed-sharing or co-sleeping can be dangerous. It can increase your baby's risk of suffocation.
Your baby can slip under the bed covers or roll under an adult. They could also get trapped between the bed and the wall, or fall out of the bed.
A separate cot is safest. If breastfeeding your baby, return them to their own cot to sleep.
Never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa, couch, armchair or beanbag.
Car seats and other sitting devices
Never leave your child unsupervised in a sitting device.
Sleeping in a sitting position can cause your baby's head to fall forward. This makes it more difficult for them to breathe. For example, in a baby bouncer, high chair, or a baby carrier or sling.
If your baby falls asleep in one of these devices, remove them and place them on their back to sleep as soon as possible.
Buggies and car seats are not recommended for routine sleep or as a main sleeping place. Car seats are designed only to keep your baby safe while travelling.
If your child falls asleep in a buggy, make sure:
- the seat is tilted back
- they are lying on their back as flat as possible
- they are safely strapped in
- they are not at risk of overheating – remove layers if moving from outdoors to indoors
If your baby falls asleep in a car seat while driving, make sure:
- their head is always tilted back
- you can see their face, and they can breathe easily – their nose and mouth should not be pressed against the seat
Do not use head support straps
Do not place straps across your child’s forehead in the car seat.
These straps are a suffocation if the strap slips down over your child's nose and mouth.
Head strap products are sometimes described as a car seat head safety strap, a neck protection belt or a holder belt. They are also marketed for use in buggies or strollers.
There is no evidence that these products are safe to use.
Long car journeys
If going on a long car journey, plan for breaks where you can safely park your car. Then take your baby out of the car seat.
Place them on their back on your lap or on the back seat while you supervise closely. Return your baby safely to the car seat before you drive again.
Baby carriers and slings
Baby carriers and slings are useful for carrying your baby and freeing up your hands. But they can be a suffocation risk. Always follow safety advice if you choose to use one.
Before using a baby carrier or sling
Not all baby carriers and slings are suitable for all babies. Make sure it is safe for your baby’s age and developmental stage. For example, it might not be suitable for babies who are newborn, premature, or have poor head control.
Ask your public health nurse if you have any queries about using one with your baby. Always read the manufacturer’s safety information. Practice putting baby carriers and slings on and taking them off before using them with your baby. Check that buckles and straps are secure.
How to position your baby
To use any kind of baby carrier or sling safely, follow these guidelines, shortened to TICKS. This is to prevent your baby from suffocating.
- T - Tight enough to hug your baby close to you. Your baby should be positioned high and upright with head support. Any slack or loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down. This could restrict their breathing.
- I - In view at all times, with their face not covered with material or clothing. You should always be able to see your baby’s face by simply glancing down.
- C - Close enough to kiss - your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward, you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.
- K - Keep your baby’s chin off their chest so they can breathe normally. Make sure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.
- S - Supported back. In an upright carrier, your baby should be held comfortably close to you. This means their back is supported in its natural position and their tummy and chest are against you.
Be aware of body heat
Make sure your baby does not get too hot. It is easy to overheat because of the body heat shared between you and your baby. Adjust your baby’s clothing if you think your baby is becoming too warm.
Feeding in a baby carrier or sling
Check the manufacturer’s safety instructions. Some recommend you don’t breastfeed in their products. The upright position is the safest position for a baby in a sling or baby carrier. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding may mean changing from an upright to a sideways or cradle position.
As with any feed, watch your baby throughout. Make sure you can see your baby’s face and that they can breathe easily. Always place your child in an upright position immediately after a feed.
Sleeping in a baby carrier or sling
If your baby falls asleep, remove them from the sling or baby carrier as soon as possible. Place them on their back to sleep. Laying on their back is the safest way for your baby to sleep. Sleeping in a baby carrier or sling could block your child’s nose and mouth. This can make it harder for them to breathe.
Plastic bags and nappy sacks
Plastic can cling to your baby's face and cause suffocation. Store plastic packaging out of your child's reach at all times.
- plastic bags
- plastic nappy sacks
- dry-cleaning packaging
Always remove your child's bib after eating and before they go to sleep.
Hairbands and headbands
Do not put hairbands or headbands on children under the age of 3. Hairbands and headbands can slip down. They can cover your child's mouth and nose. This can cause suffocation.