Anne Diamond: 'There in the cot, a little, stiff, cold statue of a child where my cuddly, warm, milky baby had fallen asleep'

Viewpoint from the broadcaster and campaigner who lost her baby to cot death

Share

We've known for some time that the link between cot death and smoking was even stronger than the link between lung cancer and smoking, yet many in the medical world chose to ignore it, because it couldn't be scientifically proved.

In 1991, we were losing 2,500 babies to cot death in the UK. The terrible morning of 12 July was when it happened to my family. It was my eldest son's birthday, and after I'd woken him with a birthday song, I went on to my baby's nursery. What I saw I describe as every mother's nightmare. There in the cot, a little, stiff, cold statue of a child where my cuddly, warm, milky baby had fallen asleep.

I was treated with sympathy, but also astounding complacency. I was told that I should "cheer up and have another one". In New Zealand, however, they couldn't afford such complacency. They had the highest cot death rate in the world – and couldn't tell why. So they launched a three-year epidemiological study. Every time a baby died, they researched everything from age, environment, dummies, parental smoking, breast milk or formula – everything. They also took data from at least two "controls" ( babies who had not died that night) to draw comparisons.

After 18 months, the results were so dramatic that they felt compelled to turn the study into a campaign. Because the babies who were dying were the ones on their tummies and those whose parents smoked. New Zealand's most famous female broadcaster went on TV every night asking parents to turn their babies on to their backs, and to stop smoking near them. The cot death rate plummeted almost overnight.

Back home, our Back to Sleep campaign proved that the advice worked. In 1991, I presented a TV advert with the four life-saving tips: sleep your baby on his back; don't smoke anywhere near him; don't overheat him and go to the doctor if he has coughs, colds and sniffles. Our cot death rate fell dramatically, from 2,500 down to around 300 a year.

We had to admit we don't know why the advice worked. But the scientists have always wanted proof. Now the tough question is: will this proof save more lives? Will the single mum living in a miserable tower block, who clings to her pack of ciggies as the only thing that keeps her sane, be able to kick the habit? I think not. And that's what's stopping us from saving those 300 precious lives a year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A street in Rotherham, where the Jay report has exposed the abuse of 1400 children  

Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal - the lessons: We need solutions, not scapegoats

Paul Vallely
 

No menu! Dining doesn't get posher than this

Dom Joly
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution