Brussels, 19 Jan 2004
New research from the EU funded Concerted Action on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has shown that the two biggest risks to babies are tobacco smoke and bed-sharing.
Smokers who sleep with a baby increase the risk of cot death by nearly 18 per cent, and bed-sharing puts infants up to eight weeks old at a 'small, but significantly' higher risk of smothering or overheating.
These findings derive from one of the largest case-control data sets on SIDS, combining data from new and continuing research projects across 17 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine). The 'European Concerted Action on SIDS' (ECAS) investigation was planned to give an overview of risks factors related to the syndrome in Europe.
Data for more than 60 variables were extracted from records of 745 cot death victims and 2,411 healthy babies. Analyses suggest that many risk factors for SIDS are easily avoidable and that further reductions in the SIDS rate could be achieved.
According to Professor Robert Carpenter who led the research, 'Around 70 per cent of deaths could be prevented by three factors alone - having the baby beside the bed, making sure it sleeps on its back and using clothes, not bedding, to keep the baby warm, or using a lightweight sleeping bag.'
The link between sleeping position, bed-sharing, smoking and cot death is still not fully understood. What is known, however, is that babies are not good at controlling their body temperature and lose much of their heat through the face. Sleeping face-down or with their heads covered may increase the risk of overheating. According to the research, six out of ten of all cot death cases could probably be attributed to lying babies on their front or side.
The risk of SIDS was also found to be greatly increased if a mother who smokes shares a bed with her baby, particularly during the first weeks of life. Some researchers believe that overheating causes bacteria in a baby's nose and throat to release toxins. Exposure to smoking in the house may make them more vulnerable to these toxins.
Research on mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy, and who shared a bed with their baby, showed there to be only a very small increased risk of SIDS, and the risk was only significant during the first eight weeks of life.
The study also showed that babies are also more likely to die from SIDS if they sleep in another room during the first eight weeks of their life. The safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot in the parents' bedroom. A baby should be on its back with its feet at the bottom of the cot to avoid it wriggling down and covering its head. Blankets should be tucked in firmly, and no higher than the shoulders. The baby's head should be left uncovered, and it should not be able to get too hot. No one should smoke in the same room as the baby. Those simple steps alone can easily and dramatically reduce the risk factors attributed to SIDS, says the ECAS project team.
To read the case control study on SIDS in Europe, please visit: http://www.thelancet.com/journal/vol363/ iss9404/full/llan.363.9404.talking_point s.28417.1
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