​​​​​​​​​The sudden, unexpected death of a baby where there is no apparent cause is now called sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

SUDI includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents. SIDS used to be called ‘cot death’.

SUDI is more common in babies aged between two and four months, but it can also happen to younger and older babies. SUDI occurs in both bottle-fed and breastfed babies.

Provide a safe environment

You can help by providing a safe sleeping environment (safe cot, safe mattress, safe bedding).

Put your baby to sleep on their back, with their head uncovered. Do not expose your baby to tobacco smoke (before birth and after).

These steps can greatly reduce your baby’s risk of dying suddenly and unexpectedly, although they can’t provide a complete guarantee.

Sleeping arrangements and SUDI

The risk of SUDI increases if your baby sleeps on their stomach. It is important to put your baby to sleep on their back. Over time, this may slightly flatten the back of your baby’s skull, but this usually improves by itself without any medical intervention before the child’s first birthday.

Your baby should sleep in their own safe sleeping environment next to your bed for the first six to twelve months of their life.

Research in New Zealand and the UK has shown that sleeping a baby in the same room, but not in the same bed, with parents in the first six-to-twelve months of life is protective. This is thought to be because parents can see the baby and easily check to see that the baby is safe.

This protective effect does not work if the baby is in a room with other children, probably because the children do not know if the baby is safe or not.

In some SUDI cases, the babies are found with bedding over their faces. Some suggestions to prevent this are:

  • Don’t put your baby on a water bed or bean bag.
  • Don’t use soft bedding like quilts, doonas, duvets or pillows.
  • Use a firm, well-fitting mattress.
  • Don’t use cot bumpers.
  • Keep soft toys out of the cot.
  • Position your baby’s feet at the bottom of the cot.
  • Tuck in the bedclothes securely or use a safe baby sleeping bag (which has fitted neck and armholes and no hood).

Causes of SUDI

The real cause of SUDI remains unknown. There are no consistent warning signs to alert us to the risk of SUDI. Sometimes, the baby wasn’t feeding well on the day they died or may have had a slight cold or tummy upset.

Minor infections are often found in SUDI babies, but these infections are mild and not enough to have caused death. Research into the causes of SUDI continues.

The number of babies dying suddenly and unexpectedly has reduced dramatically in Victoria. The Australian Bureau of Statistics compiles statistics on SIDS in Victoria. It has found that the incidence of SIDS has fallen by as much as 84 per cent since 1990.