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Using Dummies during sleep may reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The paper was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January of this year and I decided to have a look at it in detail to see how true the claim was.

Cot death is the term used to describe the sudden and unexpected death of a baby that is unexplained before any investigations have been carried out. One in 1500 babies die in this way in the first year of life, most commonly between the ages of one and four months old.

When the cause of death remains unexplained after investigation, the death is registered as SIDS. It is thought that many SIDS deaths are caused by breathing failure, but how or why this failure occurs is not known. Possible causes include suffocation, overheating and choking, but none of these has been proven. Further research is taking place into the causes of SIDS.

Babies who die from SIDS die painlessly in their sleep, and there are no signs of struggling – the baby is often found in the same position as when he or she was put down to sleep. It usually happens when the baby is asleep in their cot, but can also happen during any other period of sleep such as in the pram or even in a parent’s arms.

Some factors that increase the risk of SIDS include:

The paper published in the BMJ claimed that using a dummy during sleep reduced the risk of SIDS. This study was based in California, USA. They found that babies that slept with a dummy had a reduced risk of SIDS. This risk was reduced even if the baby was exposed to other risk factors, such as a parent that smoked or sleeping on their front. 

The authors of the paper thought that dummies could help keep babies airways open due to their size and shape, also sucking on a dummy may help in the development of the baby’s airway. However this is not proven in the study.

It is important to stress that this type of study has flaws. This study only looked at 185 children (a small number) and was carried out in the USA not the UK. Also the authors interviewed the parents of babies who died from SIDS asking about their last night and whether a dummy was used or not as well as what position they slept in and what type of bedding etc. When a baby dies from SIDS, parents often suffer overwhelming feelings of guilt, at such a traumatic and sad time it would be hard to recall all these details and incorrect information may have been given to the interviewer.

My advice is that using a dummy is not going to harm your baby and might reduce the risk of SIDS. However more importantly babies sleep position does dramatically reduce the risk of SIDS as does having non-smoking parents and firm bedding. So do also follow the established advice of “Back to Bed” and “Feet to Foot”Article Search, which means having the baby sleeping on their back with their feet at the end of the cot.

Further information

Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID)
0870 787 0554


Stillbirth and Neonatal Society
020 7436 5881

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