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Overview of cot death

Cot death is also called sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby who seems healthy during sleep.

Cot death can happen in a cot, pram, bed, car seat, baby seat or anywhere a baby is sleeping.

Because the cause of cot death is not known, it cannot be completely prevented. But research has shown that you can take steps to significantly reduce the risk of cot death.

You can reduce the risk as follows:

  • Always place your baby on their back to sleep in their own cot. Place their feet to the foot of the cot. Do this every time your baby goes to sleep or has a nap, both day and night.
  • Do not smoke and keep your baby away from smoking.
  • Never fall asleep in bed with your baby if either you or your partner smokes.
  • Keep their head uncovered and don't use too many clothes.
  • Use only blankets or a sleeveless sleeping bag in the cot.
  • Do not have pillows, cushions, sleep positioners or any other item in the cot.
  • Make sure the room temperature is between 16°C to 20°C (degrees Celsius).
  • Keep the cot in your room for the first 6 months.
  • Other ways to reduce the risk include breastfeeding. Some research shows using a soother might help.

Contact your GP or your local GP Out-of-hours Services if your baby seems unwell. Call 999 or 112 in an emergency.

Related topics

Emergency services and when to get help

What is cot death?

Cot death is one of the main causes of death in babies from 4 weeks to 12 months of age. A baby who seems healthy goes to sleep and when next checked they are found dead. There has been no sound or sign of a struggle.

The exact cause of cot death is unknown. No cause of death can be found, even after a post-mortem examination. It is most common between 2 and 4 months of age and can happen to older babies.

Cot death is not caused by vaccines, vomiting, choking or suffocation

Apnoea or breathing monitors cannot prevent cot death. These monitors alert parents and carers to apnoea (stopped breathing) or an apparent life-threatening event. Babies who die from cot death cannot be successfully resuscitated. Babies who have an apnoea can be.

Related topics

Sleep routine

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page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
next review due: 14/11/2021