The number of unexplained infant deaths in England has fallen to its lowest ever level with just 212 babies dying of SIDS/unascertained causes in England in 2014 compared to 252 the year before.
This continues a steady downward trend in the SIDS death rates since the dramatic falls in the early 1990s. To lose a baby suddenly and unexpectedly is one of the worst possible fears of many parents, so the fact that the numbers are continuing to decline is really positive news.
Preventable Infant Deaths
However, for over 200 families to go through this experience each year is still a real tragedy, particularly as many of these deaths are preventable. The data from the Office for National Statistics show that the risks remain particularly high for young mothers, for those without a stable partner, and for those in manual or routine occupations. These are some of the most vulnerable families in our society.
We know what is needed to prevent most of these deaths. Perhaps the biggest impact on the declining SIDS rates has been the continued decline in the number of women smoking during pregnancy, now (2015-16) running at just over 10%, compared to 15.1% in 2006-7.
Data from our 2003-6 study in SW England showed that 57% of mothers whose babies died in infancy smoked during pregnancy compared to just 14% of the random controls. If we can continue to reduce both smoking during pregnancy and postnatal exposure of infants to parental smoking, we could reduce the rates even further.
Spreading the messages about safe sleeping, and helping parents, particularly those in the most vulnerable groups, to follow those messages will also help.
To help these parents, the Lullaby Trust launched Little Lullaby earlier this year – a tremendous resource for young parents. I’d encourage you to have a look and pass the link on to any young parents you know.
Little Lullaby is a social network for young parents providing them with a space where they can learn about safer sleep, while also gaining support from their peers through the ups and downs of pregnancy and parenthood
 Blair PS, Sidebotham P, Evason-Coombe C, Edmonds M, Heckstall-Smith EM, Fleming P. Hazardous cosleeping environments and risk factors amenable to change: case-control study of SIDS in south west England. BMJ 2009; 339: b3666. doi:10.1136/bmj.b3666