Reduce the Risks

While no-one understands what causes Cot Death, research has shown that by following the advice below the risk can be substantially reduced:

  • Place baby on the back to sleep
  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy – fathers too!
  • Do not let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
  • Avoid overheating baby
  • Keep baby’s head uncovered – place baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot
  • Do not share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol, take drugs or if you are a smoker
  • Consult a doctor if baby seems unwell

Place your baby on the back to sleep

Place your baby on the back to sleep from the very beginning. This will reduce the risk of Cot Death. Side sleeping is not as safe as sleeping on the back. Healthy babies placed on their backs are not more likely to choke if they vomit. At about five or six months old it is normal for babies to roll over and they should not be prevented from doing so. This is the age at which the risk of cot death falls rapidly, but still put your baby on the back to sleep. If you find your baby on his/her front before five or six months old, gently turn your baby over but do not feel you should be checking for this constantly through the night.

It is good for your baby to play on his/her front when awake.

Cut out smoking during pregnancy – fathers too

Smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of cot death. It is best not to smoke at all

Don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.

Babies exposed to cigarette smoke after birth are also at an increased risk of cot death. It is best if nobody smokes in the house, including visitors. Anyone who wishes to smoke should go outside. Do not take your baby into smoky places.

If you are a smoker, sharing a bed with your baby increases the risk of cot death.

Don’t let your baby get too hot (or too cold)

Overheating can increase the risk of cot death. Babies can overheat because of too much bedding or clothing, or because the room is too hot. Remember, a folded blanket counts as two blankets.

When you check your baby, if she is sweating or her tummy feels hot to the touch, take off some bedding. Don’t worry if her hands or feet feel cool, this is normal. It is easier to adjust for the temperature if you use lightweight blankets.

Babies do not need hot rooms. Keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for you – probably about 18ºC (65ºF).

  • In summer, if it is very warm, your baby may not need any bedclothes other than a sheet
  • Even in winter, most babies who are unwell or feverish need fewer clothes
  • Babies lose excess heat from their heads, so make sure baby’s head cannot be covered with bedclothes
  • Babies should never sleep with a hot water bottle or electric blanket, next to a radiator, heater or fire, or in the sunshine
  • Remove your baby’s hat and extra clothing as soon as you come indoors or enter a warm car, bus or train, even if it means waking your baby

Keep baby’s head uncovered – place baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot

Babies whose heads are covered accidentally with bedding are at an increased risk of cot death.

Sleep your baby on a mattress that is firm, flat, well fitting and clean. The outside of the mattress should be waterproof, like PVC. Cover the mattress with a single sheet. Use sheets and lightweight blankets but not duvets, quilts, baby nests, wedges, bedding rolls or pillows.

To prevent your baby wriggling down under the covers place your baby’s feet at the foot of the cot or pram. Make the covers up so that they reach no higher than the shoulders. Covers should be securely tucked in so they cannot slip over the baby’s head.

The picture on the right, with the tick, shows the correct position for your baby in the crib or cot. This prevents the baby wriggling down under the covers.

The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in your room for the first six months.

While it’s lovely to have your baby with you for a cuddle or a feed, it’s safest to put your baby back in their cot before you go to sleep, especially in the first 3 months. There is a link between sharing a bed and cot death if you or your partner:

  • are smokers (no matter where or when you smoke)
  • have recently drunk any alcohol
  • have taken medication or drugs that make you sleep more heavily
  • are very tired

There is also a risk that you might roll over in your sleep and suffocate your baby, or that your baby could get caught between the wall and the bed, or could roll out of an adult bed and be injured.

It is extremely unsafe for anyone to sleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair .

Consult a doctor if baby seems unwell

Babies often have minor illnesses which you do not need to worry about . Make sure your baby drinks plenty of fluids and is not too hot. If your baby sleeps a lot, wake him regularly for a drink. It may be difficult to judge whether an illness is more serious requiring prompt medical attention. The following guidelines may help you:

Serious Illness

There may be serious illness is your baby has any of the following symptoms:

  • has a high-pitched or weak cry, is less responsive, is much less active or more floppy than usual
  • looks very pale all over, grants with each breath, seems to be working harder to breathe when you look at their chest and tummy
  • takes less than a third of usual fluids, passes much less urine than usual, vomits green fluid, or passes blood in their stools
  • has a high fever or is sweating a lot

Urgent medical attention is needed if your baby:

  • stops breathing or goes blue
  • is unresponsive and shows no awareness of what is going on
  • has glazed eyes and does not focus on anything
  • cannot be woken
  • has a fit. Even if your baby recovers without medical attention, still contact your doctor

                   Dial  and ask for an ambulance

How can you help?

The Trust relies on the generosity of the Scottish public to survive. There are many ways you can help to support our work. Some of these are detailed below but you may want to organise an event yourself. Dances, barbecues and coffee mornings are popular.

Sponsored events

You can either decide to organise your own event – walks, cycles, slims are good ideas – or participate in one of the many Marathons which take place country-wide.

Challenges for 2005

The Great Scottish Run, 4th September 2005 Choose between the Half Marathon or the Mixed 10K

Great North Run 18th, September 2005

The World’s biggest Half Marathon!

You can now raise sponsorship money the easy way by using your own personalised online fundraising page from Your sponsors will be able to donate online with a debit or debit card. This allows you to collect sponsorship and donations from friends, family and colleagues without having to pursue cash and cheques after the event. Using this method for fundraising is secure and tax efficient with an automatic 28% extra in Gift Aid added to donations. To set up your own personalised web pages and online sponsor form just click on

Scottish Cot Death Trust Lottery

Far better odds than the national Lottery! For £1a week (20p per day) you have a chance of winning up to £10,000. There is a draw every weekday from Monday to Friday, so you have the chance of winning 5 times a week! Contact us for your form.

Christmas 2005

Our Christmas catalogue will be available online from September 2005, with a great choice of cards. 100% of the profit comes to The Scottish Cot Death Trust., You will be able to order online or download the Catalogue.


The Trust welcome volunteers to

  • Help with mailshots.
  • Support bereaved parents, if you have lost a baby yourself.
  • Sell Christmas cards on a sale or return basis at your work, nursery, Mother and Toddlers Group or even in your own home.

If you can help in any of these ways, please email us.


The following leaflets are available from The Scottish Cot Death Trust or can be downloaded from this website

To receive hard copies of any of these please email us.


Each year Roadshows are organised in different parts of the country. These are two-hour sessions providing an update on Cot Death for health care professionals, police, social workers and other professionals, as well as parents.


The Trust can provide provide speakers for police training, health care professional training, Rotary clubs and community groups of various kinds.

Facts about Cot Death

This information may also be downloaded (904KB)

What is Cot Death?

Cot Death, more correctly known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), was defined in 1969 as “the sudden death of an infant or young child which is unexpected by history and in which a thorough post mortem examination fails to demonstrate an adequate cause for death”. The term “SIDS” has since been widely used on death certificates although in the past ten years “unascertained” and “sudden unexpected death in infancy” have also become common. “Cot Death”, however, is still the term understood and used by most people in the UK.

How common is Cot Death?

Until 1991 the rate in Scotland was approximately 1 in 500 livebirths, similar to that of other developed countries. Since then the rate has gradually decreased and is now around 1 in 1,500 livebirths, a drop also noted in other parts of the world. Although we cannot be certain of the cause of this decrease it is probable that avoiding placing babies on their fronts to sleep has made a major contribution. However, Cot Death remains the biggest single cause of death in infants aged between one week and one year.

What happens when a Cot Death occurs?

In the typical case an apparently healthy infant is put down to sleep without the slightest suspicion that anything is out of the ordinary, although there are sometimes signs of a slight cold or tummy upset. When next checked the infant is found to be dead. Sometimes the time interval is only minutes. Sometimes the baby has not even been sleeping – there are accounts of infants dying in the middle of a feed. There is no sound or sign of a struggle, or of any distress.

Are some babies at more risk?

Although the basic cause(s) of Cot Death are unknown there are certain characteristics which have been confirmed by a large number of different studies.

Age Distribution

A small number of Cot Deaths occur in the first month of life. The incidence rapidly rises, after that, reaching a peak in the second and third months. 83% of Cot Deaths occur in the first six months and only about 5% in babies aged 9-12 months. A very small number of Cot Deaths, 3-4%, take place in the second year of life.

Sex Incidence

There is a clear sex difference in SIDS with a male to female ratio in Scotland of approximately 2:1. This is in sharp contrast to other causes of infant death after one week of age which affect an almost equal number of boys and girls.

Seasonal Incidence

Cot Death is more common in winter than in summer – approximately 60% of deaths occur in winter/spring compared with 40% in summer/autumn.

Birth Order

Second and later born infants in a family are at greater risk than first born.

Maternal Age

Young mothers (under 20 years old) are more likely to lose a baby to Cot Death than older mothers. The average age of Cot Death mothers is two years younger than the general maternal population.

Obstetric Factors

Preterm, low birth weight babies are more likely to die from Cot Death than full term infants. Twins are also more vulnerable.

Socio-Economic Factors

Cot Death is more common with deprivation but occurs in families at all social levels. There is unanimous agreement that maternal smoking increases risk, particularly during pregnancy, resulting in a seven-fold risk when the mother smokes over 20 cigarettes per day. Smoking by parents and other household members after the baby is born also increases the risk. The infants of drug-abusing mothers are more vulnerable to Cot Death.

Infant Care Practices

There is now considerable evidence that placing babies to sleep on their fronts increases the risk of Cot Death. Side sleeping also appears to be less safe than back. Overheating may make a baby more vulnerable and several studies have shown that babies whose heads are accidentally covered with bedding are at greater risk. Breastfeeding does not appear to protect against Cot Death, although it has many other benefits.

What causes Cot Death?

For centuries babies commonly slept in their parents’ bed and it was believed that sudden unexpected deaths were due to suffocation by overlaying. By the nineteenth century doctors began to question this assumption and since then research has been carried out in a wide variety of fields including pathology, physiology, epidemiology and risk reduction. It is anticipated that no single area of study will provide the final answer but each may contribute to our understanding of what causes these babies to die.

Can we prevent Cot Death?

Since we do not know why Cot Deaths occur, we cannot prevent them. However, research has indicated that the risk may be reduced if the following steps are taken:

  • Place baby to sleep on the back
  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy and after birth keep baby in a smoke-free room
  • Avoid overheating baby
  • Keep baby’s head uncovered – place baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot
  • Consult a doctor if baby seems unwell

Was anyone to blame?

In Scotland when a Cot Death occurs it is routinely reported to the Procurator Fiscal – as is the case with any sudden, unexpected death – and the Fiscal will order a police investigation and a post mortem examination. While this is an inevitable part of our legal system it can be very distressing for the parents and can make them feel as if they are under suspicion.

Equally distressing and bewildering is the lack of an explanation for the death. With no reason and no-one else to blame, parents often blame themselves, feeling that they must have done, or failed to do, something which led to the death. It is important to emphasise to parents that Cot Death is unforeseen and therefore unpreventable. The vast majority of Cot Death babies have been lovingly cared for. Occasionally the baby will have been seen by the family doctor shortly before the death because of some slight ailment such as a cold. Nothing has been found which would have indicated a need for serious concern or have led anyone to anticipate a sudden death.

Did the baby choke?

Sometimes parents worry that their baby smothered or choked. While it is possible for an infant to smother accidentally, this is rare. Cot Death is also not caused by vomiting or choking. Sometimes milk or blood-tinged froth is found around the nose or mouth. This occurs during or soon after death and is not the cause of death.

Can it happen again in a family?

Parents naturally fear a recurrence. However, Cot Death is not hereditary and any future babies in the family may run only a very slightly increased risk of recurrence, of the order of 2-5 times the population rate.

About the Scottish Cot Death Trust

The Scottish Cot Death Trust was founded in 1985 and has three main aims:

  • To improve and extend the support for bereaved families
  • To raise funds for research into the cause(s) of Cot Death
  • To educate the public and health care professionals about Cot Death and ways of reducing the risks

The Trust is the only charity in Scotland working to eradicate Cot Death and support the families suffering this tragedy.


The Scottish Cot Death Trust is governed by a Board of Trustees which includes representatives from a range of professions including medicine, law and nursing as well as bereaved parents.

An Executive Committee is responsible for implementation of the Board’s policies and also advises it on specific issues.

The Trust’s Scientific Advisory Committee reviews all research grant applications and makes recommendations to the Board on which should be funded. It also acts as a source of expert opinion on all medical and scientific issues.


The Scottish Executive provides a small grant (currently £5,000) each year to the Trust. All other funding comes as a result of donations and fundraising. Without these the Trust would be unable to continue its work.

The Trust provides all support, leaflets and education free of charge. However, donations to support the cost are greatly appreciated.



The Trust offers support to all families who have suffered the sudden unexpected death of their baby or young child and to the professionals dealing with such a tragedy.

A range of leaflets have been produced for families and a bereavement support worker is available to visit the family in their home or provide telephone support. In addition, parents can be put in contact with a befriender – a parent who has suffered a Cot Death in the past and who is now willing to offer support and hope to the newly bereaved family.

If and when the parents decide to have another baby, the Trust ensures that a breathing monitor is available for the baby. While this is not a guarantee that their new baby will not die it can provide much needed reassurance for parents who can go to sleep, knowing that they will be alerted if their baby stops breathing.


Since its formation in 1985 the Trust has funded well over £2,000,000 of research into the possible causes of Cot Death in a wide variety of fields including physiology, pathology, epidemiology, biochemistry, microbiology, virology and genetics.


The Trust’s helpline provides expert advice for concerned parents and health care professionals on reducing the risks of Cot Death. Speakers can also be provided for police training, health visitor and midwifery courses and many interested groups such as Rotary, Inner Wheel and Young Women’s Groups.

The Trust publishes a range of information leaflets for general practitioners, health visitors, clergy, police and funeral directors who are involved with sudden infant death.


A newsletter is published twice-yearly which describes the work of the Trust. The following current newsletter is available for download:

March 2005 newsletter (1747KB)


Research into Cot Death

The Scottish Cot Death Trust funds research in a wide variety of disciplines relating to any aspect of sudden infant deaths. Since 1985 it has funded over £2,000,000 of research. Most of the work is carried out by university departments in the UK and very occasionally abroad.

Grant applications are reviewed twice yearly by a Scientific Advisory Committee.

There is a two-stage selection process. Stage one requires applicants to submit a short outline of their intended proposal including hypothesis, methodology, outcome measures, availability of resource material, statistical procedures and estimate of yearly funding.

Outline proposals are submitted at the beginning of January and July in each year. The closing date for outline proposals this year is 18th July 2005. They are given an initial review and are shortlisted. Applicants whose proposals are shortlisted will be invited to submit a full application by mid-March or mid- September.

Outline proposal and full grant application forms can be downloaded, completed and mailed to:

The Scottish Cot Death Trust –

Download outline proposal form.

Download grant application form.

Current Research

The Scottish Cot Death Trust funds research in a wide variety of disciplines. Ongoing projects are:

Carbon monoxide: A possible risk factor for SIDS (University of Florence, Italy)

Research has shown that parental smoking, particularly maternal smoking during pregnancy, greatly increases the risk of SIDS for a baby. However, the reason for this has never been properly explained. In newborn babies there is a temporary change in the electro-physiology of the heart which reverts to normal in the vast majority of cases by 6 months of age. If there is a delay in reverting to normal, it may lead to abnormal rhythm of the heart pump and perhaps expose the infant to sudden death. This research group will examine the possibility that the babies exposed to carbon monoxide in the womb (that is, whose mothers smoke) may not make this important move back to normal at the same time as babies whose mothers do not smoke.

The distribution of ß-APP immunoreactivity in SIDS (University of Edinburgh)

Study of brain tissue has revealed a number of tiny abnormalities in SIDS babies. Researchers don’t understand what causes these and many are thought to be the result of lack of oxygen to the brain, an inevitable part of the death process. The research group will examine sections of the brain to identify a protein called ß-APP which is an early marker of damage to nerve cells in the grey matter and to the neuronal processes in the white matter. They will then to relate it to the APOE genotype(see above project) and hope to be able to get an insight into the early abnormalities in SIDS.

The use of ß-APP staining may also help demonstrate important differences between SIDS and cases of non-accidental injury.

Identification of Brainstem Sites Controlling Breathing in the Human Infant (Harvard University, USA)

In the medulla oblongata (part of the brain involved in regulation of automatic physiological functions) of animals a group of cells has been identified that are critical in the control of breathing. These cells are thought to be responsible for the generation of spontaneous rhythmic breathing, i.e., causing regular breathing to occur automatically, regardless of sleep or wake state. These cells have connections with other regions in the brain that control the mechanical muscles of breathing (i.e., diaphragm and muscles in the chest and ribs) and are thought to be able to detect changes in the need for oxygen and alter the rate of breathing accordingly. Studies have shown that selectively destroying these cells causes an abnormal rhythm of breathing, frequently causing it to stop altogether before starting again (apnea), and an inability to alter breathing to respond to different normally occurring conditions. This group of cells is called the PreBötzinger Complex (preBötC). PreBötzinger Complex cells occupy a specific position in the medulla oblongata and contain the neurochemicals glutamate and somatostatin, specific criteria by which they may be identified. As yet, a group of cells with the same functions as the preBötC in animals has not been identified in human brain. The aim of this project is therefore to identify a human version of the preBötC by looking for cells in the same position containing glutamate and somatostatin in normal human medulla oblongata. Given the critical involvement of the preBötC in control of breathing in animals, an abnormality in the preBötC in human infants may potentially cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as SIDS is postulated to involve abnormal central (brain) control of breathing during sleep. Furthermore, preBötC cells receive input from cells in the medulla containing the neurochemical serotonin (5-HT), which change breathing by altering the function of the preBötC. Given that studies in our laboratory have previously identified abnormalities in the 5-HT containing cells in the medulla in SIDS infants, abnormal 5-HT input to the preBötC may disrupt effective control of breathing and cause SIDS.

Successful identification of the preBötC in normal human brainstems will allow future comparison of this region in the medulla of infants dying from SIDS and enable us to examine the possibility that preBötC dysfunction may play a role in SIDS.

Recently completed research projects

Pathological defects in placentas from women whose newborn babies have suffered intra-uterine growth retardation and/or SIDS (Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, London)

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a silent killer, in as much as there are no previous signs, symptoms or warnings that it is going to happen. This research examined how SIDS babies develop before birth. The organ that plays the greatest role whilst a baby is developing is the placenta or the afterbirth. This organ is responsible for the transfer of all the nutrients and oxygen to the baby and removal of all waste products. Any abnormality within the placenta has the potential to affect adversely the way the baby develops.

The research team analysed different subcomponents of placentae from babies who died as a result of SIDS and compared them to normal healthy “control” placentae (that is, from babies who did not die), using highly sophisticated novel microscopical techniques. They found that placentae from SIDS infants develop differently from controls. Since placental features develop in an orderly fashion the team could get an idea at what time point a change was likely to have occurred. The feature showing the greatest difference was the intermediate villi in the SIDS placentae; this structure had a shape that was completely different to that of control placentae.

An intermediate villi with a different shape may impact on blood flow dynamics from the mother to the baby. The conclusion is that developmental changes in the placenta may have an effect on the development of the baby and may make him/her more susceptible to SIDS after birth.

An Evaluation of Cot Mattresses and their Covers as Reservoirs of Toxigenic Bacteria (De Montfort University, Leicester)

The purpose of this research was to investigate the possibility that potentially harmful bacteria become established in cot mattress foams and/or their covers, giving rise to sources of possible infection that may invade the upper respiratory tract of infants. The methodology involved bacteriological testing of currently used polyurethane foam cot mattresses donated by the public; information on the history of use of the cot mattresses was obtained via a mattress donor questionnaire.

The bacteria in cot mattresses was influenced by the sleeping position of the infant and movement on a cot mattress promoted aerial release of bacteria from polyurethane foam. Use of a non-integral (not completely covered in plastic) cot mattress was associated with increased levels of bacterial contamination within the exposed polyurethane foam. Previous use by another child of a non-integral mattress was associated with significantly increased levels of Staphylococcus aureus within cot mattress polyurethane foams. This is a bacterium which is found more frequently in infants who have died suddenly and unexpectedly than in infants who have died from known causes.

The findings could provide a plausible explanation for recently identified possible risk factors for SIDS, i.e. sleeping at night on mattresses used previously by another child and use of mattresses not entirely covered with a waterproof cover. Data obtained on soluble protein and dust-mite allergen levels within polyurethane foams corroborate these findings. The fact that bacterial growth/survival is encouraged by organic matter contamination, such as urine, breast or formula milk, or by high relative humidity indicates that maintenance of a clean and dry cot environment would help to minimise development of reservoirs of bacteria within cot mattress materials. Staphylococcus aureus was shown to have good survival capability on polyurethane foam even at low relative humidity and to be capable of breakdown of polyurethane.

The molecular basis of intrauterine growth retardation in cases of sudden and unexpected death in infancy (University of Dundee)

Glucose is the primary source of energy for the brain. The brain cannot make sufficient glucose for its own needs so it must obtain glucose from the blood. It is therefore vital that blood glucose concentrations are maintained within a restricted range – neither too high or too low.

Episodes of low blood glucose can lead to brain damage and in extreme cases even to death. Low birth weight infants are particularly vulnerable to low blood glucose levels, and low birth weight is also a risk factor for sudden and unexpected death in infancy. Research has previously shown that some infants dying suddenly and unexpectedly have defects in liver glucose production, which could lead to low blood glucose at times of stress or reduced milk intake.

The researchers in Dundee believe that many of these defects in liver glucose production are as a result of failures to regulate this system at birth. They have investigated the molecular nature of this regulation, and have shown that subtle alteration in the structure of regulatory regions of genes that control glucose levels occur in some infants. The next phase of this work is to identify these changes in genes at the time of birth to determine which infants are at greatest risk at times of stress. Once we have the knowledge of which infants are at risk then simple preventative measures such as changes in feeding patterns combined with emergency action plans to deal with the normal minor ailments of infancy will lower the risks.

Smokechange: Smoking Cessation during Pregnancy
A Randomised Controlled Trial of Home-based Motivational Interviewing (University of Glasgow)

This study aimed to establish whether the use of motivational counselling during pregnancy would help pregnant women to stop smoking. All self-reported smokers in two Glasgow maternity hospitals were given routine information about smoking and pregnancy by the study midwives. Half of them were, in addition, offered an extra 2-5 home-based motivational interviewing sessions lasting about 30 minutes each. Their quit and reduction rate was compared with those offered information only, and self reporting was corroborated by measuring routine blood or saliva cotinine at late pregnancy follow-up compared with booking.
The researchers concluded that, even with dedicated, well-trained midwives, the offer of motivational counselling on its own did not decrease the habits of pregnant smokers.

Apolipoprotein E Genotype: A comparison and SIDS and known causes of death in infancy (University of Edinburgh)

Some theories about the causes of SIDS have centred on poor control of breathing, subtle heart abnormalities, or an unusual susceptibility for the baby’s defences to be overwhelmed by minor infections or other environmental problems which normal babies are well able to survive. This variation between babies may be controlled by the baby’s genes.

For a number of years the work of this research team has focussed on brain damage in babies who die in infancy and the investigation of the possible causes. They identified the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene as possibly relevant to SIDS for a number of reasons. This gene is concerned with transport and maintenance of fatty substances in the body. It also has a role in controlling the response to infection. The brain has a high content of fat combined with protein which it uses for the insulation of nerve fibres. The gene exists naturally in three different forms ApoE e2, ApoE e3 and ApoE e4 which vary in their ability to maintain normal fats and proteins. Variations in the gene have also been clearly linked to the response of the brain to ageing (ApoE 4 is more common in Alzheimer’s disease) and to other harmful circumstances such as stroke and head injury. The researchers wished to establish whether the unusual forms of the ApoE gene (ApoE 4 and ApoE 2) were more common in babies who died of SIDS compared with other babies who died of known disorders at the same age.

They investigated 296 babies, made up of 170 babies who died of SIDS and 126 babies who died of other causes. They compared these findings with the knowledge they had already gained about healthy babies who were still alive as well as what is known about adults. They found a small increase in the number of SIDS babies who possessed the ApoE e4 gene compared with non-SIDS babies. However the difference was not sufficiently large to convince them that the ApoE gene was a major influence in causing SIDS. They are undertaking further work to see if there are differences between the babies who have different ApoE genes. These differences are likely to be subtle. Meanwhile there are other likely genes which influence a baby’s ability to survive and future research will certainly move in this direction.

Scottish Cot Death Trust

Does breastfeeding protect my baby from Cot Death?

Breastfeeding is the very best way to feed your baby and will help protect him from infection. However, there is no evidence from UK studies that it actually reduces the risk of Cot Death.

Does having my baby immunised increase the risk of Cot Death?

No. Research indicates that babies who have been vaccinated are at lower, not higher, risk of Cot Death.

Is it dangerous for our baby to sleep in our bed?

Sleeping with your baby should be avoided if you or your partner smoke, have consumed alcohol, have taken drugs or medication which may make you sleep more heavily, or if you are very tired. The safest place for a baby to sleep is in his/her own crib or cot, in the parents’ room.

Do I need a new mattress for each baby?

Two research studies carried out by The Scottish Cot Death Trust have shown an increased risk of Cot Death for babies sleeping on a mattress previously used by another baby. The risk was very small if the other baby was an older brother or sister in the same family but higher if the mattress was second-hand from another home. More research is continuing on this subject but meantime you may choose to avoid any potential risk by buying a new mattress. Otherwise, make sure the mattress is very clean, dry and in good condition. It’s best to choose one which is totally covered with plastic which can be easily be washed down.

Should the baby sleep in his/her own room or our bedroom?

Recent research suggests that having the baby’s crib or cot in the parents’ room for the first six months is protective against sudden infant death. If you don’t have room for this, have the baby in the next room and make sure both doors are open.

Can I take my baby in an aeroplane?

Several years ago there was a suggestion that babies might be at increased risk of sudden infant death if they had been on a long plane journey, because of the different oxygen levels in an aircraft. However, there is no evidence of a higher incidence of Cot Death in babies who have been travelling in planes.

My baby keeps turning onto his tummy in bed – what should I do?

As babies mature, some will choose to sleep on their tummies. There is nothing parents can do to prevent this and there is no point in getting up constantly during the night to move the baby onto his back. However, always put him on his back when you put him in his cot. Keep in mind that the peak age of Cot Death is 4-12 weeks and that, by the time most babies are able to roll over, they are past this high-risk period.


In the weeks and months following your baby’s death it can sometimes be helpful to speak to another parent who has suffered a similar tragedy in the past. The Trust has a network of Befrienders who are willing to contact newly bereaved parents and provide support.

If you would like to become one of our Befrienders, please email us and we can tell you when our next training day is.

Buy our Forget-me-not pin and help fight Cot Death

You can make a real contribution to the fight against Cot Death by ordering our beautiful lapel pin.

We’re selling these pins at a cost of £1 each, to raise funds for research into the causes of cot death. We know that the babies who died are never forgotten by the families who loved them.

Download our order form here.