Breakthrough in to the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also known as Cot Death

Many years ago, when I was a new mum with my first baby a colleague who had a baby the same age, lost her son from cot death. It had a profound effect on me. I booked on a first aid course, moved my son into my bedroom and spent the next 6 months checking him hourly to make sure he was still breathing.

Of course, I got it all out of proportion as  Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)  is rare. Just under 300 babies die each year in the UK from SIDS. But  having a baby was  the biggest responsibility of my life and I was highly unlikely to get anything into proportion especially in those first few months.

I had been putting my son to sleep on his tummy as advised by the health visitor.  But after this  publicised tragic event the advice changed and we were told that babies should be placed on their back to reduce the risk of cot death.

Much has been written about SIDS over the years but until now there hasn’t been any real conclusion about why these babies were dying.  Until this week!

In what is being hailed as a major new breakthrough Australian researchers at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s hospital have found evidence that babies who die from SIDS (cot death) have low levels of orexin, a brain protein which regulates sleep arousal.

These low levels of the same protein have been found in the brain of adults with obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition that causes pause in breathing while asleep. And this protein appears to be a major player in SIDS.

What this means is that children could now be screened at birth to see if they are at risk of SIDS.

“It’s linked that there is a sleep-related issue, which we’ve always known because the babies die in their sleep, but we didn’t know what it was linked to but this protein seems to be a major player in it,” said Dr Rita Machaalani, manager of the sleep unit at Westmead. The nest step, explained Dr Machaalani would be to identify the ideal levels of Orexin for a baby’s brain and develop a diagnostic tool to help prevent such deaths.

“If we can determine what’s the normal level in babies when born then we can use those abnormalities to predict kids that might be at risk in the future of sudden infant death syndrome or sleep apnoea,” she said.

Should the worst happen, start CPR immediately and call 999

Click on the link below to watch a short Safe and Sound video on how to resuscitate a baby.


NHS UK Advice on what to do help prevent SIDS



  • Always place your baby on their back to sleep.
  • Place your baby in the “feet to foot” position (with their feet touching the end of the cot, Moses basket, or pram).
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered. Their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders.
  • Let your baby sleep in a cot or Moses basket in the same room as you for the first six months.
  • Use a mattress that’s firm, flat, waterproof and in good condition.
  • Breastfeed your baby (if you can).


  • Smoke during pregnancy or let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby (both before and after birth).
  • Sleep on a bed, sofa or armchair with your baby.
  • Share a bed with your baby if you or your partner smoke or take drugs, or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
  • Let your baby get too hot or too cold. A room temperature of 16-20C, with light bedding or a lightweight baby sleeping bag, will provide a comfortable sleeping environment for your baby


For more information about paediatric first aid courses call 0208 445 8998 or go to;