When health visitors and midwives talk to new parents before the birth of their baby the last thing the parent wants to think about is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). SIDS is understandably scary; unfortunately we still don’t know why it claims the lives of five healthy babies every week. But what we do know, after over 40 years of research, is how to significantly reduce the risk of it happening and how to keep babies safer.
The Lullaby Trust helps to support families in making a choice about how best to sleep their baby. We provide thousands of free advice leaflets and fact sheets to professionals who work with parents to make sure they have evidence based advice on safer sleep. This includes health visitors, midwives and other early years professionals. They carry our safer sleep message to the ears of new parents across the country, and this message save lives.
We have seen around a 70% reduction in the number of SIDS deaths since the early 1990s. This is largely due to the discovery that babies are much safer when placed on their back to sleep – something many new parents do not know until after speaking to their health care professional. There is a generation of older parents for whom the advice on settling a baby to sleep was very different when they had children in the 1980s. These soon to be eager grandparents may unwittingly pass on advice that is no longer appropriate, and is even unsafe. This is just another reason why it’s so very important to have knowledgeable, friendly and supportive professionals who can help families with their new baby and give them the most up-to-date advice.
Now, the biggest challenge that faces us in the fight against SIDS is smoking during and after pregnancy. A shocking one in five women continues to smoke during their pregnancy, running the risk of giving birth prematurely or having a low birth weight baby. These developmental problems significantly increase the risk of SIDS. We are also seeing SIDS occur in younger and more vulnerable families. This includes families with babies on low incomes, often living in poor accommodation who may need multiagency support to protect their health. Some parents are much harder to reach with safer sleep advice and their circumstances and living conditions carry a higher risk of SIDS. This is where our work needs to focus in future and where health care professionals play an even more vital role.
Reducing SIDS is about helping parents to understand what poses a risk to their baby in a supportive and non-judgemental way. We provide this information online and in print free of charge, but it’s the health visitors who order our publications, the midwives who recommend us and the early years professionals that follow our advice that play such an important role in delivering safer sleep information to new families. There’s plenty we can do to help families and protect babies and we’re very grateful to professionals who work hand in hand with parents to support them in practicing safer sleep.
Francine Bates is the Chief Executive at the Lullaby Trust