Babies and young children don’t have the control that adults have over their bodies. They can wriggle and squirm but it is harder for them to move out of a dangerous situation.
Did you know?
- Asphyxia (which also includes choking and strangulation) is the third most common cause of child accident deaths in the UK. Most of these accidents happen to children under 5.
- It takes just a few minutes for a baby to suffocate, and they are too weak to move themselves out of a position where they can’t breathe.
Babies are weak, and can’t move in the same way as an older child. At this age, babies are most at risk from suffocation when they are sleeping.
Safe sleeping places
Tiny babies need a good safe place to fall asleep. The best way to keep babies safe when they’re sleeping is in a cot of their own. Many parents take babies to bed with them, especially in the first few months when they seem to wake up every five minutes! Sadly, some babies have been accidentally suffocated by their parents. It is not common, but it is especially dangerous if the person sleeping with the baby has been drinking alcohol, takes drugs, is extremely tired or smokes, or if the baby was born before 37 weeks or weighed less than 2.5 kg at birth. A cot for your baby means you can sleep soundly too, knowing that they are safe.
Tiny babies aren’t strong enough to push blankets away from their faces, so they can sometimes suffocate if they wriggle down under the covers. Putting babies at the bottom of the cot (so their feet touch the end) can stop them squirming down. Because they cannot push bedding away from their faces, duvets or quilts should not be used with babies under 12 months – use blankets or a lightweight sleeping bag (without a hood and that is the right size to stop the baby wriggling down into it) instead. Also, never use a pillow with a baby less than 12 months old.
Young babies under six months naturally grasp things and pull them to their mouths, but then find it difficult to let go. Nappy sacks are very thin, so can easily cling to the face of a baby as it breathes in. Tragically, some small babies have been suffocated by nappy sacks left within their reach. That’s why we advise keeping nappy sacks well out of reach of babies and never putting them in a cot, pram or buggy.
Nooks and crannies
They can’t walk or crawl yet, but many babies are very mobile! They’ll wriggle, roll and squirm around, and their small heads can get trapped in narrow places. You can keep them safe by making sure there’s a gap of no more than 4cm anywhere between their mattress and the bars of the cot.
It’s often convenient to put baby down on the sofa for a sleep, but it can be dangerous. Most sofas have large gaps, and are covered in cushions. All of these can cause suffocation if your baby gets stuck.
Tragically some young babies have suffocated in fabric baby slings. The danger occurs when the baby is in a C-shaped position, with their chin on their chest, as this can restrict their breathing. There is a raised risk if babies were born premature or with a low birth weight or have breathing problems or a cold. If you use a sling, follow the TICKS advice: Keep your baby Tight, In view, Close enough to kiss, Keep their chin off their chest, and Supported back.
Toddlers are very curious about the world. They’re also mobile enough to start exploring. This means they’ll be looking into gaps, picking things up, and causing a lot of mischief!
Toddlers are mobile enough to reach lots of things they shouldn’t, including plastic bags. The easiest way to make them safe is to tie a knot in them near the top. Your child won’t be able to suffocate if he can’t open the bag! Plastic sheets that seal and protect many new products and appliances, especially large ones, can also present a risk if they’re not thrown away immediately. It’s also a good idea to keep anything like this out of reach so your child can’t get to it
Aged 3 to 5
Children of this age are old enough to sleep with duvets and pillows. There is still a small chance of suffocation, because of their curiosity and need to play.
Plastic bags and sheets are the greatest suffocation risk for 3-5s. They are big enough now to reach things that you want to hide away, so try to keep plastic bags out of reach and out of sight. If you get rid of these straight away your toddler won’t be able to play with it.
Here are free downloads to share with parents and carers to help keep children safe from suffocation, choking and strangulation.