Cot death message is failing to reach deprived families, putting more babies at risk

Do you remember the campaign to lower and then hopefully eradicate, cot death? It was spearheaded by broadcaster Anne Diamond who did so much to increase public awareness and publicise the crucial infant bedtime precautions to avert sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Anne’s campaign achieved much with the SIDS numbers falling until 2014, but families living in the most deprived neighbourhoods continued to experience a disproportionately higher rate.

Change is needed regarding the way safe sleep information is passed on if we are to lower the risks to babies from unsafe sleeping practices, says a new report from the universities of Oxford, UCL, Bristol and Newcastle.

This found that 42% of SIDS occurred in the most deprived ­areas, compared with 8% in the least deprived. Researchers interviewed parents, talked to local professional services, and studied data on safer sleep interventions.

Professor Jane Barlow at Oxford University commented on a new softer approach: “The findings of this research suggest that it may be beneficial for practitioners working with parents who are faced with a range of adverse life circumstances to focus on the reasons that parents might, for example, co-sleep with an infant, and how to do so safely.”

Family rituals play a key role in parents’ decision-making about a baby’s bedtime, including parents’ own sleep needs and the need to bond with their babies.

Dr Anna Pease from Bristol Medical School said: “Families have a right to evidence-based information about how to reduce their baby’s risk of sudden infant death. We know that overall safer sleep advice has worked to save the lives of thousands of babies, but this approach has not been as effective with more vulnerable infants.

“This research really shows how we need to focus on supporting those families who need extra support – tailoring the messages to their circumstances, working with caregivers’ own motivations and instincts, and making sure these messages come from credible and trusted sources of support.”

The research suggests a health visitor is the ideal person who can provide continuity of care and establish a trusting relationship with parents.

Peer and family support networks are also important to reinforce messages and provide advice.

The report suggests professionals could provide personalised support, based on needs of individual ­families and consistent with ­guidelines from the National Institute of Health & Care Excellence and The Lullaby Trust.