18 January 2016

Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board is launching a campaign aimed at preventing avoidable deaths of newborn and small babies in response to a rise in the number of sudden unexplained infant deaths linked to unsafe sleep environments in the county.

Nationally over 300 babies a year die suddenly and unexpectedly from co-sleeping with a parent or carer. Northamptonshire is above the national average, with six deaths since December 2014 attributed to unsafe sleeping situations and therefore probably preventable deaths. Ensuring that babies sleep in their own cot or Moses basket in a room with the parent/carer will reduce the incidence of babies dying in unsafe sleeping conditions.

Sleeping next to your baby, or co-sleeping, is one of the biggest causes of death for babies under a year old. Whilst parents may consider it to be a secure physical and emotional sleeping environment for their baby, sharing a sleep area with a baby can be extremely dangerous as it increases the child's chances of dying by accidental suffocation. Young babies have not developed the muscles in their necks to be able to move their heads or lift their head away from danger even if they are not able to breathe.

The “Safe Sleeping for your Baby” campaign recommends that the safest place for babies and infants to sleep is in their own cot or Moses basket, and in the parent’s room for the first six months of life. Babies should be gently put back onto their backs up to the age of 6 months and care should be taken that the baby does not overheat due to too many blankets or high room temperature. It is also advised that babies and infants should never be left to sleep for long periods in travel systems or car seats.

Information material will be given to all midwives and health visitors for the approximate 9,000 expectant mums together with a poster campaign across GP surgeries, hospitals and children’s centres. Home visits, carried out by a midwife will include safe sleeping assessments, carried out within the first four weeks of a new baby’s life and the assessment and appropriate advice is recorded in the Parent Held Child Health Record (Red book).

Keith Makin, Chair of NSCB, said: “The safeguarding Board in Northamptonshire aims to help ensure that all children are kept safe. There is a lot of evidence that some of the sleeping arrangements for babies are unsafe and this campaign is all about helping parents to understand the possible risks involved.

I hope that this guidance is of real practical use to families. The Board will be monitoring the impact of this campaign and will welcome feedback from both families and professionals alike.”

Peter Boylan, Director of Nursing and Quality for NHS Nene CCG and NHS Corby CCG, said: “Infant deaths are very rare, however, we cannot ignore that we are seeing a rise in the number of deaths relating to inappropriate sleeping environments. There are approximately 9,000 births a year in the county and new parents come into contact with professionals from both health and social care, so it is important that collectively, we can ensure that the information and advice is available and shared with new parents at the most appropriate time. By listening to the advice of health visitors and midwives, we can reduce the risks.”

Carolyn Fox, Northampton General Hospital Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Patient Services, said: “Every Northamptonshire organisation with a role in protecting children from harm speaks with one voice as we launch this campaign.

“Our midwives are huge advocates of physical contact between parents and babies because it’s so important for a newborn’s early development and emotional security. We’re not for one moment suggesting that parents should reduce the amount of waking time they spend in close contact with their baby.

“But we can’t ignore the evidence before us, that in this county too many babies have died in circumstances where sleeping arrangements were not safe. Falling asleep while you’re holding your baby - whether it’s in your bed, on a sofa or in an armchair – places your baby in a perilous position.

“With a newborn, the tiredness can be overwhelming and you can find yourself nodding off when you feed or have a cuddle. So we’re particularly appealing to dads, grandparents and other family members – if you see that mum has fallen asleep with the baby, don’t leave them like that.

“In a cot, on their back, in your room – that’s the safest place for your baby.”

County Council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Heather Smith said: “This campaign is an important reminder for every parent, grandparent and carer about the dangers of falling asleep with a young baby on your chest or beside you in bed. The only safe way to put your baby to sleep when they are less than six months old is on their back in a cot or Moses basket in the same room as you.

“We will be displaying informative posters and leaflets at all of our children’s centres across Northamptonshire and I would encourage everyone who looks after a young baby to take on board this important advice.”

The campaign is supported by all members of the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board including Northamptonshire County Council, NHS Nene Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS Corby CCG, Northamptonshire Police and the county’s acute NHS Trusts.