Dr Michael Simpson, an anaesthetist working in Portugal, says poor parenting results in a baby that is stressed and unable to sleep properly.
The exhausted baby eventually falls into such a deep sleep that it stops breathing.
But Richard Cooke, the professor of paediatric medicine at Liverpool University, last night attacked Dr Simpson's theory. He said: "Dr Simpson has never had anything to do with children, and has never had any research in this field published.
"I think it is highly irresponsible to come out with something like this that is going to cause much distress and unhappiness.''
A spokeswoman for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths said its scientific advisers had considered Dr Simpson's article, published in the latest issue of Hospital Doctor, and concluded it was "insubstantial and quite irresponsible."
Dr Simpson, a former consultant anaesthetist at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, now lives and works in the Algarve, Portugal. In his article he claims that the reason maternal smoking raises the risk of cot-death is not cigarette smoke, which is a known risk factor, but the type of mother.
Mothers who smoke were more impulsive than non-smokers and less likely to be consistent, calm parents, he says. Other risk factors, such as teenage mothers and drug addiction, are also linked by a tendency to erratic care, irregular feeding and poor feeding techniques.
According to Dr Simpson, the anxiety caused by sleep deprivation leads to "special recovery sleep" with reduced muscle tone in the airways. Dr Simpson writes: "The ability of the care or carers to bond with the baby and thus promote contented sleep is vital to much of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."
The number of cot deaths in England and Wales has fallen 70 per cent, from 1,500 in 1988,since when parents were advised to put babies to sleep on their backs.Reuse content