Cot death is rare, but when it occurs it is devastating. It isn’t fully understood what causes it but it often occurs when the child is sleeping and is most common in the two to four month age group. Premature or underweight babies are more at risk, as are babies who grow up in homes where people smoke. Pinning down a specific factor though is very difficult.
The clinical name for cot death is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and is slightly more common in males than in females. Cot rate deaths have gone down in recent years, possibly because of better nutrition and because smoking rates are down.
Dr Debbie Wake, The Hour’s health expert, said: “There’s an area of the brain called the brain stem that controls breathing and heart rate, and it’s thought that some abnormal development in that area may be implicated, but we don’t really know for sure.”
Liz Miller lost her daughter Josephine to cot death almost 20 years ago: “It was a normal morning like any other. I was getting my son Michael up for school and Josephine up for her regular routine, ready for her first feed. I noticed she was a bit lethargic and then she went limp. She died right there in my arms. It was like a power cut. Everything just switched off.”
Liz and her husband had only ever planned on having two children and after Josephine they never had any more, so she can’t reflect or comment on having anxieties with another baby. However, Liz’s niece, Eilidh Grant, remembers when her little cousin died. She was eight years old when it happened and she can still remember it.
Now 28 and with a baby of her own on the way, Eilidh can’t help but be anxious with the memory of Josephine’s death: “I’ve always been aware of the cot death prevention techniques and the midwife talks you through it so I’ve prepared myself as well as I can.”
Fiona Brown from the Cot Death Trust gave some tips and advice on how to prevent cot death: “A cot is always the safest place for babies to sleep. The best position is for the baby to sleep on its back and be tucked in tightly to stop the baby wriggling down under the covers and suffocating.
“It’s also important that babies aren’t left to overheat because that can be really dangerous. Make sure you buy the right size of blankets and the right tog value. Also, using a dummy provides a protective benefit because it encourages the baby to suck on something during the night, making their sleep safer.”