A fifth of mums don’t place babies to sleep on their back

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths says more and more mothers are risking cot death by not putting their babies to sleep on their backs. The Foundation says the figure has increased from 10% six years ago, and it attributes this partly to the media coverage of “flat head syndrome” – where a baby develops a square-shaped head from laying on its back.

In the same survey, however, the Foundation discovered that not enough mothers are letting their babies play on their front for long enough – less than 22% of mothers regularly let their babies play on their front, which is said to aid development.

A new survey from the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths reveals that 21% of mothers do not always place young babies down to sleep on their back. Failing to put babies to sleep on the back increases the risk of cot death by nine times.

A new leaflet produced by FSID, “Sleep on the back, play on the front”, highlights the key baby safety message to parents that they must continue to sleep their babies on the back in order to reduce the risk of cot death and the importance of supervised front play. The news is likely to anger some mothers, however, who believe there is nothing wrong with letting babies sleep on their front, and that cot death can be attributed to any number of factors – including genetics.

Joyce Epstein, FSID’s director said: “We are really alarmed to see that a fifth of babies are not being placed on the back to sleep. Our fear is that the lifesaving message to sleep babies on the back to reduce the risk of cot death will be undermined by a mistaken perception that flattened heads poses a greater danger. It does not. This campaign is to remind parents they must not abandon back sleeping for babies. Parents may be able to avoid or minimise the effects of flat head syndrome simply by having fun with their babies when they are awake, not by jeopardising their safety when they are asleep.”

Clare Jolly, health visitor advisor to FSID said: “We are seeing more babies with flattened heads because they are spending so much of their waking time lying flat on the back. Parents often wrongly think they should not let their baby be on the front at all. When a baby is awake they should enjoy different positions from the very beginning. Although flat head syndrome does not do any medical harm, parents are naturally anxious and we need to let mums and dads know that they do not need expensive treatment or special devices – they just need to follow the advice in FSID’s new leaflet.”

Peta Smith, Vice Chair of the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (APCP), said: “We welcome FSID’s ‘Sleep on the back – Play on the front’ campaign. Paediatric physiotherapists have been reporting an increase in the number of children who show a delay in movement development amongst healthy infants who rarely spend much time on their tummies to play.

“The first few months of life are an important time for babies to start to become aware of their bodies and develop the skills they require for rolling over, sitting and crawling. Simple measures like giving your baby supervised tummy time every day will help them co-ordinate, balance and control their body and give them a foundation for all movement and skills.”

The survey was carried out by Bounty for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. 1,545 mothers with babies aged up to one year old were interviewed throughout March 2006.

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