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How to keep your baby safe while they are sleeping

By Lisa Salmon

Although the number of cot deaths has fallen, the rate is rising in infants born to mums under 20. The Lullaby Trust explains how it's sharing the Safer Sleep message.

Babies born to young parents have a four times greater risk of dying without a cause than babies born to older parents.

That's the shocking statistic revealed by the sudden infant death (SIDS) charity, The Lullaby Trust, which is using this year's Safer Sleep Week, which runs until March 20, to get the message across to all parents, and particularly those aged under 20, that the risk of SIDS can be reduced massively by following simple safer sleep advice.

Although cases of cot death or SIDS - the sudden and unexplained death of a baby where no cause is found - have reduced dramatically since the Eighties, it still claims the lives of around five babies every week in the UK.

There were 249 unexplained infant deaths in the UK in 2013, with the rate rising to 0.36 per 1,000 live births, up very slightly from 0.32 deaths per 1,000 in 2012.

However, the rate of infant deaths for mothers aged under 20 rose significantly, from 0.92 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 to 1.27 in 2013.

And although over half of new mums with babies under six months of age say their greatest fear is that their baby will die in its sleep, a similar number admit they don't follow safer sleep advice.

The Lullaby Trust wants to bring the number of SIDS deaths down to below half the current number by 2020 and, as part of that drive, it is launching a new Safer Sleep for Babies animation film that can be shared on smartphones, in a bid to get the message across to younger parents.

Francine Bates, chief executive of The Lullaby Trust, says: "We believe the animation is a very effective way of getting our message across to young people, nearly all of whom use smartphones and are connected to social media."

The film, which is available now on The Lullaby Trust website (www.lullabytrust.org.uk) and will be shared across social media, focuses on the do's and don'ts of safer sleep, including always lying a baby on its back to sleep, not smoking, and not sleeping in the same bed as a baby if you smoke, drink, take drugs or are extremely tired.

Bates says younger parents' babies are thought to be more at risk of SIDS partly because of a lack of awareness, and partly because many young parents are more disadvantaged, with low incomes and little support.

"They're sometimes more vulnerable and dealing with difficult problems in their lives, and often safer sleep isn't at the top of their agenda," she says.

"We want them to understand the basics of safer sleep and how important it is to follow the advice because, clearly, there's a risk that a baby may die if they don't do it."

While the number of SIDS cases has been decreasing since 1989, the fall was most marked between 1991 and 1992 when the FSIDS (the former name for The Lullaby Trust) Reduce the Risk of Cot Death campaign was launched.

While there were 1,173 SIDS cases in 1991, the number plummeted to 647 in 1992.

"When cot death was at its height, the vast majority of babies were found to have died on their tummies, so it was clear that putting a baby to sleep on its back was much safer," explains Bates.

"Within five years of telling parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, the cot death rate had reduced by 70%."

Bates points out that while the latest, 2012-2013, figures show a very slight overall increase in SIDS deaths, it's thought this may be explained by a very cold spell during 2013 when there was a spike in SIDS deaths.

This may have been because parents were wrapping babies up more than usual to protect them from the cold, and they were overheating, which is a major SIDS risk.

"The fact is, though, that we don't really know because the reason for SIDS is still a mystery," Bates admits, which is why continual research into SIDS is vital.

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