Medically known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the words 'cot death' strike fear into every parent's heart. Although the number of babies claimed by SIDS is very small, the rates do vary around the world - from 1 in 4,000 infants in Finland and the Netherlands, 1 in 2,000 in the UK, to 1 in 700 in the United States and 1 in 400 in Italy. Babies under the age of 6 months are most at risk. However, the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death urges that there are steps you can take to minimize the risks for your baby.

Essential safety guidelines


  • Put your baby to sleep on his back on a flat mattress, without a pillow. You may find he rolls over during the night. If this happens, turn him onto his back again, but don't feel you need to keep checking him all night. When he can roll from back to front and front to back, continue to put him to sleep on his back, but then allow him to find his own position.
  • Keep his head uncovered. Position your baby feet-to-foot - that is, with his feet at the bottom of his bed. This helps to minimize the chances of him worming his way under the covers.
  •  Always use sheets and blankets rather than a duvet. Make sure they are firmly tucked under your baby's shoulders so that he can't wriggle underneath them.
  • Babies find it difficult to regulate their body heat, so keep your baby's room at the right temperature, 16-18 C (61-64°F). At this temperature, he should be dressed in a nappy, vest and babygro, and have two to three light blankets for cover.
  • Monitor the temperature of his room with a nursery thermometer. Position it near your baby's head, so that you are recording the temperature around his bed rather than on the other side of the room.
  •  Do not put your baby's bed next to a radiator - he may overheat. Similarly, do not put his bed up against a window - he may be in a draught during the winter, and may overheat if put down for a daytime nap in the summer.
  •  When checking to see if your baby is too warm or too cold, always feel his tummy or the back of his neck rather than his hands or feet, as these can appear icy even when he is too hot. Add or take off layers as appropriate.
  •  Do not let anyone smoke near your baby.
  •  Do not allow yourself to fall asleep with your baby on the sofa.

In your bed

If your baby is sleeping in your bed, it is important to follow these rules. This includes making sure that your baby's head is not anywhere near your pillow, and using sheets and blankets rather than a duvet. In addition, you must not share your bed with your baby if either you or your partner:

  • is a smoker
  • has recently drunk alcohol
  • is taking medication that may make you tired.