New parenthood is a very exciting time but it can also be very frightening. The responsibility of having a life completely dependent on you for the first time can understandably lead to new, and expectant, parents being plagued by constant worry.
The Lullaby Trust and Bounty Parenting Club have released research showing that the greatest of these worries are cot death (also known as sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS), meningitis and stillbirth.
The survey of 1,892 pregnant women and mums with babies and young children found that more than half (62 per cent) of parents with a baby under six months old worried that their newborn may die in its sleep. The fears about cot death were far higher than concerns about meningitis (16 per cent), stillbirth and accidents (both 11 per cent).
Yet despite such evident concern about cot death, many parents aren’t following safer sleep advice, with almost half (48 per cent) of those surveyed admitting to sleeping on a sofa or armchair with their baby regularly or occasionally, and 43 per cent saying they’d moved their baby into its own room before it was six months old.
As part of its continuing drive to reduce the number of cot deaths, the Lullaby Trust has now helped produce a Safer Sleep Guide, to be included in the free Bounty packs given to new parents in maternity wards.
The information includes advice about reducing the chance of cot death, for example: always place your baby on their back to sleep, put the baby to sleep in a separate cot or Moses basket in the parents’ room for the first six months, and use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in good condition.
It also explains what to avoid: do not sleep on a sofa or in an armchair with the baby or sleep in the same bed as the baby if you or your partner smokes, drinks, has taken drugs or is extremely tired.
This also applies if your baby was born prematurely or was a low birth weight.
In addition, the guide explains parents should avoid letting their baby get too hot and should never cover the baby’s face or head while sleeping.
“The number of babies dying suddenly and unexpectedly remains stubbornly high in the UK compared to other Western European countries,” warns Francine Bates, chief executive of the Lullaby Trust.
She stresses more needs to be done to raise awareness of the ways to prevent SIDS, adding: “This is why we’re delighted to provide information on safe sleep in Bounty packs, reaching all parents right at the start of their new baby’s life.”
The number of SIDS cases have thankfully been decreasing since 1989, when there were 1,545 in the UK, and there are now around 300 cases a year.
The fall was most marked between 1991 and 1992, when the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (the Lullaby Trust’s previous name) launched its Reduce the Risk of Cot Death campaign and the number of SIDS cases quickly fell from 1,173 to 647.
There has been a slower decline since then though, and numbers now appear to have stabilised.
Midwife Gail Johnson, the Royal College of Midwives’ education advisor, says: “Because we don’t hear about cot death so much these days, it’s sometimes not on parents’ agenda, which is why it’s important to have a guide that reminds people.”
Johnson explains that stillbirth is actually much more prevalent than cot death, but parents tend to worry about it less because there isn’t really anything they can do about it.
Meningitis also is less of an issue for babies, as it is more likely to affect slightly older children. Newborn babies are less exposed to the wider environment where they may become exposed to the meningitis bacteria. They have a degree of immunity from their mother for up to three months, particularly when they’re breastfed.
“Breastfeeding is a fantastic opportunity to reduce the risk of infection,” stresses Johnson.
Overall though, for any new parental worry, the key is to speak to someone. There’s excellent advice out there from midwives, health visitors and doctors, so for the sake of a phone call, get some advice.
For more information on safer sleep, visit www.thelullabytrust.org.uk