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Two decades ago, 2,000 babies in the UK died each year from what became known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), commonly referred to as ‘cot death’.

Today, these cases have been reduced by 80% thanks to the research and recommendations developed by Peter Fleming, Professor of Infant Health and Developmental Physiology at University of Bristol, and his team. The research has  prevented approximately 10,000 deaths in the UK, and at least 100,000 worldwide,  as other countries have adopted these recommendations.

Initial research

A series of surveys in the mid-1980s conducted by Prof Fleming and his team, pinpointed three potential risk factors - babies sleeping face down; being covered in too many blankets; and being exposed to parental tobacco smoke. The results were published in 1990.

After a further study in 1991 confirmed the initial findings, Fleming approached the Government with his advice, and there followed the successful ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign, fronted by TV personality Anne Diamond. After just two years, cot deaths fell by 70% – the equivalent of saving 12 babies a week.

Advice should be followed both day and night

Another study led by Bristol University found that the advice in ‘Back to Sleep’ applied equally to babies sleeping during the day. Around 75% of the babies who died of cot death in the daytime were sleeping in a room without an adult present.

Developing better approaches to investigation and care

Professor Fleming and his team are involved in policy decisions relating to their research in areas such as preventing SIDS, and developing better approaches to the investigation and care of families after unexpected childhood deaths.

Professor Fleming said: “Thanks to continued research at the University of Bristol and collaborations with different research groups, the work we do has enabled us to have had a considerable impact in over 30 different countries.”

As a result of Professor Fleming’s work, he has been named as one of the UK’s pioneers of science in ‘Eureka UK’, a book celebrating 50 years of life-changing research, developments and interventions by academics at universities throughout the UK.