Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The challenge

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – sometimes known as ‘cot death’ – is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby. In the UK, just under 300 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly every year. This statistic may sound alarming, but SIDS is rare and the risk of your baby dying from it is low. Most deaths happen during the first six months of a baby’s life. Infants born prematurely or with a low birthweight are at greater risk. SIDS also tends to be slightly more common in baby boys. SIDS usually occurs when a baby is asleep, although it can occasionally happen while they’re awake. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths’ (FSID) provides guidelines to help reduce risk. We know that in Bradford, families of South Asian origin have a rate of SIDS that is lower than the national average. Our research study set out to find out why this was.

What we did

Between 2008 and 2009 Born in Bradford staff interviewed more than 3,000 women across the city about their sleeping arrangements in a bid to understand if ethnic differences in infant care could explain why fewer South Asian babies compared to white British children were susceptible to SIDS. 2,180 families’ results were analysed

What we found

We found that Bradfordians of Pakistani origin follow FSID guidelines closely:

  • they do not smoke or drink during or after pregnancy
  • they do not place their babies to sleep in separate rooms
  • they have a high incidence of breast feeding. We also found that it was much more common for Pakistani-origin mothers to share a bed with their baby.

White British mothers were more likely to drink, smoke and sofa-share with their babies, they were also more likely to share a bed with their partners as well as the child

What we know

Risk factors include smoking, alcohol consumption, overheating, excessive tiredness or taking medication that can cause drowsiness and unsafe co-sleeping; that is bed sharing with another child and adult as well as baby, and sofa sharing. We found that Pakistani mothers were more likely to breast feed and bed share with their baby. There is no evidence that this common practice increases the risk of SIDS In the absence of other risk factors.

What we have learned

This study has showed us the importance of looking in detail at what goes on in a family around sleep and the feeding of infants. We can learn what is risky behaviour and what things, by themselves, are not risky. This is the sort of information that is important for health professionals, charities working in this area and for parents themselves to know.

Links to full research

You can read more about this research in the following papers:

  • Ball, H. L., Moya, E., Fairley, L., Westman, J., Oddie, S., & Wright, J. (2012). Bed-and sofa-sharing practices in a UK biethnic population. Pediatrics, 129(3), e673-e681. here
  • Ball, H. L., Moya, E., Fairley, L., Westman, J., Oddie, S., & Wright, J. (2012). Infant care practices related to sudden infant death syndrome in South Asian and White British families in the UK. Paediatric and perinatal epidemiology, 26(1), 3-12.

Eduardo Moya

Eduardo Moya is a Consultant Paediatrician at the Bradford Royal Infirmary with a Special Interest in Respiratory Conditions (including Asthma) and Allergy. He is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at Leeds University