How to reduce risk of sudden infant death syndrome, according to a baby sleep expert

Caroline Allen
Contributor

When it comes to where a baby should sleep, everybody has a different opinion.

From co-sleeping to sleeping in a separate cot or Moses basket beside the bed, expectant parents have heard every type of recommendation going.

Now, baby sleep expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains why parents should sleep in the same room as their newborn for the first six months. 

In Yahoo UK’s video series The Baby Bump with Lauren Pope, Ockwell-Smith explains how important a parent’s breath is to their child and how it can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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“With sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) there’s a really important message that babies should be with you for all of their sleep.

“That’s not just night sleep that’s also day sleep, like naps, until they’re six months old,” Ockwell-Smith explains.

There are plenty of reasons we should sleep in the same room as our newborns. (Getty Images)

Although many new parents are aware of this rule, not everybody is aware of exactly why it was put in place.

People assume that as long as they can see their baby – through a monitor – there won’t be an issue, but Ockwell-Smith explains that babies actually benefit from breathing the same air as us.

“You find a lot of people saying that they moved their baby when they were younger than six months because they thought they slept better and ‘I have a monitor so I’m not worried about them’.

“What parents don’t understand is that the reason the recommendation is there is that it’s the actual presence of you that keeps your baby safe.

“The really scary thing is we know that monitors don’t protect at all for SIDS.”

The parenting author blames how the message has been put out to parents for their lack of understanding as to why the rules are in place as they are.

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Parents are actually keeping their babies safe through a process called “gaseous exchange”.

“When you exhale carbon dioxide it triggers your baby to inhale,” she said. “The actual process of your breathing protects your baby’s breathing.”

If you’re holding your baby close to you and they have a slight temperature, your body will slightly increase or decrease in temperature to try to regulate theirs, too.

As parents, we’re more in-sync with our babies than we could ever imagine.

“The reason they say to stay in the same room is nothing to do with being able to see them on a monitor, it’s this gaseous exchange that prompts them to breathe.

“It also keeps them in a slightly lighter level of sleep, which sounds bad, you’d think you want them in a deep level of sleep, but actually SIDS or cot death happens in the deepest phase of sleep.”

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The reason six months is given as a benchmark for parents is because the cot death rate dramatically decreases at month six.

What is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?

In 2019, SIDS was responsible for the deaths of 216 babies in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.

However, there are ways to decrease the risk.

Sleeping on a sofa with your baby is one of the biggest changes you can cut out to reduce risk, in fact, sleeping in this way can increase chances of SIDS by up to 50 times.

“It’s ironic that it’s called cot death because it can happen anywhere, but sofa sleeping is really, really dangerous,” says Ockwell-Smith.

“When you have a new baby it’s really exhausting and you will accidentally fall asleep at times you hadn’t planned to,” she adds.

Ockwell-Smith advises that if parents feel sleepy, the best thing to do is to lay down on the bed with the baby but ensure the baby is kept safe.

“A safe way to bed share would be to take pillow away from baby: you don’t want blankets or duvets up near them,” she says.

“Keep them on the outside of the bed and at breast height with you. Also make sure they’re on their back and don’t ever share a bed with them, even in daytime, if you’ve taken any medication that might make you feel drowsy and also if you’re a smoker.”

More safe baby sleep advice can be found on The Lullaby Trust’s website.