Cotlife 2000 – The Cause of Cot Death and How to Prevent it

Many British parents will be unaware of a 100% successful cot death prevention campaign which a New Zealand scientist, Dr Jim Sprott, has been running in New Zealand for over five years.

Dr Sprott states with certainty that the cause of cot death has been discovered: it is caused by very toxic nerve gases which can be generated from mattresses and certain other bedding used in babies’ cots.

The solution is to prevent exposure of babies to the gases, by wrapping mattresses in accordance with a specified protocol and ensuring that bedding used on top of a wrapped mattresses does not contain any phosphorus, arsenic or antimony (the chemicals which – when combined with fungal growth – can result in the gas generation concerned).

And the method works. Since late 1994 mattress-wrapping has been publicised nationwide in New Zealand, and many tens of thousands of parents have wrapped their babies’ mattresses. Prior to the commencement of mattress-wrapping, New Zealand had the highest cot death rate in the world (2.1 deaths per 1000 live births).
Following the adoption of mattress-wrapping the New Zealand cot death rate has fallen by over 50% – and there has been no reported cot death among those babies who have slept on correctly wrapped mattresses. The cot death rate among non-Maori parents has fallen even further, by an estimated 70%. It is much easier to convey new ideas of this type to Pakeha (non-Maori) people. The NZ Minister of Health stated about 2 years ago; “We know that it’s Pakeha who are mattress-wrapping”.

This major reduction in the New Zealand cot death rate cannot be attributed to orthodox cot death prevention advice (e.g. face-up sleeping). There has been no material change in that advice in New Zealand since 1992.

So what does Dr Sprott say about orthodox cot death advice?

* Don’t smoke around your baby.
Recent history refutes any suggestion that smoking causes cot death, says Dr Sprott. Smoking was very common in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, but cot death was virtually non-existent. Smoking is prevalent in present-day Russia and Japan, but the cot death rates are low. No cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and cot death has been established – they are socio-economic parallels. Put another way, smoking is more common among poorer people, and so is cot death. But it does not follow that smoking is therefore a cot death risk factor.

* Don’t bedshare with your baby if you also smoke or smoked during pregnancy.
Misleading advice, says Dr Sprott. The risk posed by bedsharing does not arise from smoking – it arises from the mattress. Adults’ mattresses very frequently contain the same chemical and fungi as babies’ mattresses, and therefore they can generate the same toxic gas/es. (For physiological reasons adults are not put at risk by this gas generation in mattresses.)

* Sleep your baby with feet to the foot of the cot.
According to Dr Sprott, this practice affords no protection whatsoever against cot death. Any area on an unwrapped mattress where a baby sleeps is a potential source of toxic gas, since that is the area which becomes warm and moist (promoting the fungal activity which can cause gas generation).

* Sleep your baby face up.
Face-up sleeping is a partial preventive against cot death. This is because the gases which cause cot death are more dense than air. They diffuse away towards the floor, and therefore a baby sleeping face up is less likely to inhale them.

So the partial success of face-up sleeping confirms the toxic gas theory. And so does much more research. According to Dr Sprott (who has a PhD in chemistry and is expert in the gas generation concerned), every step in the toxic gas theory for cot death has been proved. A considerable amount of this research has been written up and published in peer-reviewed medical and other scientific journals. In fact, mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention is supported by wider research than supported the introduction of various items of orthodox advice (including face-up sleeping). And contrary to claims by numerous orthodox cot death researchers, the 1998 UK Limerick Report did not disprove the toxic gas theory (as a New Zealand environmental scientist has pointed out in the New Zealand Medical Journal).

So why don’t orthodox cot death researchers tell parents to wrap babies’ mattresses? Dr Sprott suggests a variety of possible reasons:

* First, cot death research has been a big gravy train for medical researchers. In Britain it continues to be so (although not in New Zealand, where research funding has nearly ground to a halt as people have become aware that mattress-wrapping is easy, cheap and 100% successful in preventing cot death).

* The toxic gas theory has been publicised since 1989 (first in Britain), but it has been hotly denied by researchers and organisations responsible for advising parents. In the intervening period, many thousands of babies have died of cot death. But the New Zealand experience shows that those deaths were avoidable – and that raises the prospect of legal liability for babies’ deaths.

Some researchers have stated that cot death may have a number of causes (the multifactorial theory). Not so, says Dr Sprott. At this point he draws attention to a highly significant piece of information about cot death, which is demonstrated by British statistics: the cot death risk rises from the first baby in a family to the second, and from the second baby to the third, and so on. Babies of solo parents have a very high cot death rate.

Dr Sprott explains that the rising rate of cot death from one sibling to the next destroys every medical and physiological theory for the cause of cot death.

* For example, some researchers think cot death is caused by babies re-breathing their exhaled carbon dioxide. However, all babies exhale a similar amount of CO2, regardless of whether they are first, second or later babies. Therefore, the rising rate of cot death from one sibling to the next refutes the CO2 theory.

* Some researchers think cot death is related to the size of babies’ airways. However, for this theory to be valid would require second babies’ airways to be smaller than those of first babies; and third babies’ airways to be smaller than those of second babies; and so on. Clearly, therefore, the airways theory is wrong, because the size of babies’ airways is not related to birth order.

So what is the explanation for the rising rate of cot death from one sibling to the next? Cot death is caused by gases generated in mattresses – and most parents re-use mattresses from one baby to the next. If a mattress contains any of the chemicals concerned and fungi have become established in the mattress during previous use by another baby, generation of toxic gas commences sooner and in greater volume when the mattress is re-used.

This accounts for the rising rate of cot death from one sibling to the next. It also accounts for the very high cot death rate among babies of solo parents, who for economic reasons are more likely to sleep their babies on previously used mattresses which they have acquired secondhand.

It all fits from a theoretical point of view, says Dr Sprott – and the five-year New Zealand experience provides practical proof that mattress-wrapping prevents cot death.

Orthodox cot death researchers say that cot death rates have fallen without the introduction of mattress-wrapping – and they have. But Dr Sprott points out a crucial difference: Many babies have died of cot death where parents followed orthodox cot death prevention advice – but there has been no reported cot death on a correctly wrapped mattress. Unlike orthodox advice, mattress-wrapping has a 100% success record in cot death prevention.

Please note: Mattress-wrapping must be carried out in accordance with a strict protocol. For more information and more research results Click Here or contact Dr Sprott by e-mail ( or visit the following OR contact Julee Oakley at The Cot Life Society UK