‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome‘, formerly known as Cot Death is the term used to describe the sudden death of a seemingly healthy baby or toddler that remains unexplained after a thorough autopsy and death scene investigation. It is, in it’s essence, a diagnosis of exclusion.
‘Cot death’ was a term commonly used in the past to describe the sudden and unexpected death of an infant. It has largely been abandoned, due to its misleading suggestions that sudden infant death can only occur when a baby is asleep in their own cot.
The cause of SIDS is currently unknown but some characteristics associated with higher SIDS risk have been identified, such as exposure to tobacco smoke, frontal sleeping (baby slept on their tummy) and lack of ventilation. As such, there has been great progress over the past few decades on educating parents about how to reduce SIDS risks. However, reducing risks is not a failsafe way to prevent SIDS and at least 300 babies still die in the UK each year.
By its very nature SIDS can strike at any time, without warning. In spite of greater awareness through campaigns such as ‘Back to Sleep’, educating parents on the importance of putting their babies to sleep on their backs, SIDS often affects families who have followed all the guidelines and who have been the most attentive of parents.
About 90 per cent of cases of SIDS happen in the first six months. Most are in the first three months of life, peaking in the second month and it is more prominent in boys. As with stillbirth and neonatal death, the unexplained nature of an unexplained death is incomprehensible, heartbreaking and often exacerbates and prolongs the grief.
The Lullaby Trust: www.thelullabytrust.org
NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx