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Ministry's new advice promotes cot death risk

Ministry's new advice promotes known cot death risk

29 November 2006

Media release:

New Ministry of Health advice promotes impromptu bedsharing between parents and babies

New Ministry of Health advice on cot death prevention promotes a known cot death risk and should be reviewed urgently, stated cot death expert Dr Jim Sprott today.

Dr Sprott's statement follows the announcement on 21 November 2006 that the Ministry of Health will shortly issue a new pamphlet on cot death prevention. In addition to existing advice, the pamphlet will contain a new recommendation: that babies sleep in a bassinet or cot in their parents' bedroom during the first six months of the baby's life.

"The Ministry of Health's new advice is potentially dangerous," stated Dr Sprott. "Any parent knows that if babies sleep in their parents' bedrooms, the potential for the baby to bedshare in the parents' bed becomes very high.

"We are likely to see an upsurge in impromptu bedsharing as babies who would previously have slept in a separate bedroom now sleep in their parents' bedroom, and bedsharing which previously would not have occurred becomes likely - for example, to soothe wakeful babies, and as more breastfeeding occurs in parents' beds.

"The outcome of this new Ministry of Health advice is that bedsharing cot deaths may actually increase."

Dr Sprott noted that simultaneous deaths of twin baby girls in August 2006 occurred during impromptu bedsharing. One twin needed to be breastfed during the night, and for this purpose the mother took both twins into the parents' bed. The mother fell asleep with the twins still in the parents' bed, and the following morning both twins were found dead.

"The Ministry of Health's current cot death prevention advice strongly implies that bedsharing can be undertaken safely except in certain circumstances," stated Dr Sprott. "However, in 2005 Coroners in Auckland, Northland and Wellington all issued warnings about the danger posed to babies by bedsharing."

Parents should sleep small babies in a supermarket banana box rather take them into their own beds, stated Auckland Coroner Dr Murray Jamieson.

"One wonders how Coroners view the situation that the Ministry of Health will now be advising parents to sleep babies in the parents' bedroom," stated Dr Sprott. "This new advice flies in the face of common sense following the deaths of twin babies last August during impromptu bedsharing in their parents' bed."


The Ministry of Health's new recommendation follows a workshop held by the Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee in May 2006. "The research basis presented at the Child Mortality Workshop for the Ministry's new advice was equivocal and very sparse," stated Dr Sprott. "This new advice should be reviewed urgently."


Dr Sprott has asked the Minister of Health to defer the release of the Ministry of Health's new cot death prevention pamphlet.

ENDS

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