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Are portable cots safe?

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So many parents have them. They’re a convenience when travelling or even visiting a friend’s house for dinner. But are we a little too complacent when using them? 

It’s caused decades-long division between mums: are portable cots safe for our babies? Well, in truth, they should be.

The Australian mandatory safety standard for portable cots came into effect in March 2009, which means that every portable cot you have bought since then should have passed design and construction, as well as safety and performance testing, which is very stringent.

Having said that, we’ve all heard the horror stories about young ones dying in portable cots. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a Victorian coroner warned against the potential danger of portable cots after a five-month old girl tragically died of SIDS while using one as her permanent bed.

In this particular case, thick blankets had been placed on the base of the cot, followed by a fold-out foam couch. The gaps between the foam and walls of the cot were then padded with rolled-up blankets. There were no toys or loose bedding on top, as the mum was aware of the risk of SIDS. It was so sad that only two hours after placing her little girl in bed one night in 2011, the baby was found lifeless, her tiny face lying in the mesh at the side.

It’s a very sobering thought that this could happen to any parent. Especially given that we average about 100 deaths a year from SIDS in Australia. I, myself, have been guilty of putting a blanket and a couple of toys in a portable cot with my bub, thinking it was ok.

So here is what The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommends.

  • NEVER put pillows, cot bumpers or an extra mattress or toys in a portable cot, as your baby can become trapped and suffocate between these items
  • NEVER use a portable cot if your baby weighs more than 15kg
  • NEVER use a portable cot long-term

Keep in mind, there is also the risk of toddlers trying to climb out of them and falling, plus the risk of blind cords as a choking hazard if the portable cot is placed too close to a window.

A cause of cot death?

This may or may not be comforting, but in 2013 researchers at The Boston Children’s Hospital believe they found a link between SIDS and sleeping in an ‘unsafe environment’ in cots. That’s all cots, not just the portable kind.

They discovered that babies who died of cot death tended to suffer from abnormalities including heart rate and blood control problems.

Lead author of the study, Dr Hannah Kinney said: “Even the infants dying in unsafe sleep environments had an underlying brainstem abnormality that likely made them vulnerable to sudden death if there was any degree of asphyxia. The abnormality prevents the brainstem from responding to the asphyxial challenge and waking.

“Certainly, there are unsafe sleeping environments that can cause any baby to die, such as entrapment in the crib, but if it’s just sleeping face down, the baby who dies may have an underlying brainstem vulnerability. Safe sleep practices absolutely remain important, so these infants are not put in a potentially asphyxiating situation that they cannot respond to.”

It’s certainly food for thought, particularly if your baby is under three months of age, which apparently poses a higher risk of SIDS.

Tell us, do you use a portable cot safely? Or are you guilty of misusing it, like so many of us? And will you be a little more careful next time you assemble your cot after reading this story? Please share your own stories and opinions in the comments section below.

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