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Warning of higher cot death risk for premature babies

Premature or low birth-weight babies are more likely to die as cot deaths than those born at term of normal birth weight, a new awareness campaign is warning.

The “Time to Get Back to Sleep” campaign was launched today (30 July 2008) by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) and the special care baby charity Bliss.

The charities say that the risk of cot death increases even more if premature babies are not slept on their backs at home - they warn that a premature baby is 48 times more likely to die as a cot death if they have been placed to sleep on their stomach instead of their back.

The campaign therefore highlights the need for premature babies, who sleep on their stomachs while in hospital, to be switched to sleeping on their backs at home.

Joyce Epstein, FSID Director, said: "Cot death is still the leading cause of death in babies over one-month-old in the UK today. To reduce the especially high risk of cot death among babies who were born prematurely, they must be slept on their backs at home.

“Hospitals need to start placing babies to sleep on their backs several weeks before they are ready to go home, so parents see medical staff doing this and understand why. Studies have shown that parents are strongly influenced by what they see doctors and nurses doing."

Professor George Haycock, FSID's scientific adviser, said: "Many parents worry that if their baby sleeps on their back, they are more likely to choke on their vomit, but research shows this isn't true.

“Parents also worry that their premature baby won't sleep well if they are lying on their back, and research does show that they do wake less if they are sleeping on their tummies. However, parents must not be tempted to let their babies sleep on their fronts as babies who wake up less are more vulnerable to cot death."

Bliss Chief Executive Andy Cole said: "This is an extremely important campaign, considering that 80,000 babies are born premature or sick in the UK every year and that these babies are at a very high risk of cot death.”