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Safety warning over co-sleeping after 19 infant deaths last year

Co-sleeping led to the deaths of 19 infants in 2023 (PA)
Co-sleeping led to the deaths of 19 infants in 2023 (PA)

Parents and carers are being urged to follow advice on safe sleeping with infants after figures showed 19 babies died last year while co-sleeping.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) led a number of investigations into the sudden and unexpected deaths of babies.

In 2023, COPFS received 74 reports of babies who had died.

Nineteen died while co-sleeping and of these deaths, 12 involved alcohol or drugs being consumed by their parents or carer before co-sleeping.

Solicitor General for Scotland Ruth Charteris urged families to follow safe sleeping advice.

She said: “Sudden infant deaths are rare but are without doubt one of the most devastating tragedies that a family could experience. I send my deepest condolences to everyone who has suffered such an overwhelming loss.

“The findings of COPFS’s investigations highlight that continuing efforts to promote safer sleep practices with parents are vitally important.

Baby feet
Parents are urged not to co-sleep with their babies (PA)

“We can see that overall, safer sleep advice has worked to save the lives of thousands of babies. However, I am saddened and greatly concerned by our findings which show unsafe co-sleeping is still happening.

“I can understand the challenges of getting enough sleep as a family, but expert advice should be followed.

“The evidence of the cases reported to the procurator fiscal shows that, tragically, babies can and do die in high-risk co-sleeping situations.

“It is my sincere hope that by drawing attention to our concerns, prompted by the outcome of our investigations, the number of baby deaths in which co-sleeping was a preventable factor can be even further reduced through open conversations about safer sleeping.”

Safer sleep advice includes ensuring babies are on their backs, not their front or side, before going to sleep.

Parents are also advised to ensure their child’s sleeping space is clear, with no raised cushion areas.

Guidance states it is dangerous to sleep with a baby if you or anyone in the bed has recently drunk any alcohol, smokes, has taken any drugs that make them feel sleepy, or if the baby was born prematurely or weighed under 5lb 8oz at birth.

Baby hand
The advice urges parents to have a safe sleeping space for their infant (PA)

In these scenarios, advice states it is always best to put the baby in their own safe sleeping space, such as a cot or a Moses basket.

Further advice can be found at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/safer-sleep-babies-guide-parents-carers/pages/1/.

The 19 deaths reported last year were of infants aged under 18 months.

The COPFS investigations involved considering the statements of witnesses, including parents and carers, instruction of expert reviews, and discussions with professional services.

Any sudden, suspicious or unexplained death in Scotland is reported to COPFS for investigation.

COPFS then establishes what happened in a bid to prevent similar deaths in future.

Support is available for anyone affected by the death of a child.

A free helpline to the charity Sands is available on 0808 164 3332 between 10am and 3pm Monday to Friday, and 6pm-9pm Tuesday to Thursday.

You can also email helpline@sands.org.uk for support.

The Lullaby Trust can be contacted for free on 0808 802 6868, or by emailing support@lullabytrust.org.uk.