Cooler weather brings warning on cot death

Winter might be setting in but new mothers should avoid covering their infants with fluffy blankets - and never sleep beside them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2014, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 December, 2014, 9:54am

As temperatures dip, parents might be tempted to cover their infants with thick blankets and quilts. But experts warn that loose, soft bedding could obstruct a baby's airway and pose a suffocation risk.

In a report released last week, researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that, despite regular warnings, nearly 55 per cent of infants in the US are placed to sleep with bedding that increases the risk sudden infant death syndrome.

Sids, which most commonly affects babies in the first six months with peak at two to three months, affects one to three babies out of every 10,000 in Hong Kong, according to the Health Department's Family Health Service.

The Family Health Service has recommendations similar to those of its US counterpart. Infants should sleep alone, on their backs, on a firm surface, they advise. Also, avoid having objects and loose bedding where the baby is sleeping - these include pillows, fluffy blankets or duvets, pillow-like bumpers, stuffed toys, and so on.

Just last week, British press reported the death of a six-week-old from Sids after being deprived of oxygen sleeping in bed with his parents.

The parents had returned to their home in West Yorkshire after their first night out in a year. When Noah Pearson woke up crying at 5am, his father Paul took him from the Moses basket next to his side of the bed after feeding the baby, and cradled him in his arms between himself and his wife before going back to sleep. In the morning, Paul woke up to find blood coming from the nose of the unresponsive baby, who is believed to have died of suffocation.

Bedding, much less another human, may also cause accidental suffocation.

"Parents have good intentions but may not understand that blankets, quilts and pillows increase a baby's risk of Sids and accidental suffocation," says Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza, first author of the NIH study.

Based on responses from nearly 20,000 caregivers, the researchers reported that, although such potentially unsafe bedding use declined from 85.9 per cent in 1993-95, it still remained high, at 54.7 per cent, in 2008-10.

"Parents receive a lot of mixed messages," says study author Marian Willinger, special assistant for Sids at the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

"Relatives may give them quilts or fluffy blankets as presents for the new baby and they feel obligated to use them. Or they see magazine photos of babies with potentially unsafe bedding items. But babies should be placed for sleep on a firm, safety approved mattress and fitted sheet, without any other bedding."

The study authors emphasise that bedding includes that which not only covers or surrounds the infant, but also that which is under the infant. All items pose a risk of Sids.

They speculate that among the reasons mothers used bedding were to provide warmth and comfort or to prevent falls from an adult bed or sofa by using pillows as a barricade.

They noted that a study of images from popular magazines targeting women of childbearing age found that more than two-thirds of these images showed infants sleeping with potentially hazardous bedding such as blankets and pillows.

"Seeing images such as these may reinforce beliefs and perceptions that having these items in the infant sleep area is not only a favourable practice, but also the norm," say the researchers.