New mothers should be taught about “safe sleeping practices” for newborns to try to cut the number of babies who die from cot death, health officials said.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said families should learn about sleeping habits for babies to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Around 300 babies die from SIDS every year in the UK. Babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight are at a greater risk and it is more common in boys than girls, NICE said.
A spokeswoman said certain behaviours have been identified as increasing a baby’s risk of cot death, including allowing a baby to get too hot, if the mother smokes during pregnancy or after the baby is born, and sharing a bed with the baby - particularly with parents who have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
Placing a baby on its back to sleep also reduces the risk of cot death, she added.
The NICE guidance says: “There are specific behaviours that increase a baby’s risk of sudden infant death.
“Safer infant sleeping practices should be regularly discussed with women, their partner or the main carer, to help to identify and support them and the wider family to establish safe sleeping habits for baby, and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.”
Recent research suggests that around 120 baby deaths could be prevented in the UK every year if parents stopped sharing beds with their children.
The study found that breastfed babies under the age of three months who sleep in their parents’ beds face a five-fold increased risk of cot death.
Researchers estimated that 40% of the 300 cot death cases in the UK each year could be prevented if parents only brought children into their beds for comfort and feeding, but not sleeping.
The new NICE guidance on postnatal support for women and their babies also says NHS officials should ensure women are made aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and make sure they are given advice on how to properly prepare formula milk.
There are also new pieces of guidance on healthy eating and social and emotional development.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE, said: “The period immediately following the birth of a new baby is an exciting, life-changing time, both for the mother, her partner and their family.
“However, such great changes can sometimes feel overwhelming for the mother, so it is important that there are standards in place that outline clear, sensible ways to support and care for women during this hugely significant time in their lives.”
Jane Munro, quality and audit development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The publication of this quality standard gives commissioners and providers of services important benchmarks to measure their performance against, and sets out the levels of care women should expect.
“We know that many midwives sometimes struggle to deliver high quality postnatal care because of midwife shortages and lack of resources. The challenge for providers will be to ensure midwives have the time to deliver the high quality care these standards are aiming for.”
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