Findings of a research study carried out by University of Birmingham and funded by SIDS charity The Lullaby Trust suggest a possible association between exposure to certain pollutants and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (also known as cot death or SIDS). The research paper published in open-access journal BMJ Open examines the relationship between the effects of short-term variations in air pollution and the onset of SIDS.

The study found evidence suggesting an association between SIDS and exposure to larger particulate matter (airborne pollutants) called PM10, as well as nitrous dioxide (NO2). Other pollutants were not found to be associated with SIDS. The researchers looked at levels of air pollution the day before a SIDS death and compared them to levels on a previous reference day. The study involved over 200 SIDS cases in the West Midlands, between 1996 and 2006.

According to the World Health Organization the harmful effects of air pollution cause 3.7 million premature deaths each year. Children are more vulnerable than any other group and recent increases in fossil fuel emissions mean that understanding the effects of air pollution on child heath is more relevant than ever.

In terms of what parents can do to reduce the effects of exposure to pollution on their child, the study’s authors draw attention to advice that suggests staying indoors on days with higher levels of pollution, as well as cleaning systems for air in the home such as air purifiers, though these can be expensive.

Francine Bates Chief Executive of The Lullaby Trust says

“The findings of the study give some cause for concern and parents should be aware that exposure of their child to air pollution carries health implications, including a possible increase in the risk of SIDS. However, further research is needed to understand more about the link between air pollution and SIDS and what can be done to reduce exposure of young children to pollution. For now we would advise parents to follow safer sleep guidelines which are known to reduce the risk of SIDS such as sleeping their baby on their back on a firm, flat surface, in a clear cot or Moses basket and not exposing them to second hand cigarette smoke.”

Note to Editors

About the research

This study was funded by The Lullaby Trust and conducted by researchers from University of Birmingham: Ian J Litchfield, Jon G Ayres, Jouni J K Jaakkola and Nuredin I Mohammed

Litchfield IJ, Ayres JG, Jaakkola JJK et al. Is ambient air pollution associated with onset of sudden infant death syndrome: a case-crossover study in the UK. BMJOpen 2018;8:e018341. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018341

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