CO2 rebreathing: a possible contributory factor to some cases of sudden infant death?

Acta Paediatr. 1995 Sep;84(9):988-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.1995.tb13813.x.


Physical and geometrical conditions influencing carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulation near the face of a sleeping infant positioned deep in a cot or pram (open cot shaft) or underneath bedding (closed cot shaft) were investigated. By means of mathematical and data-based simulation, and an experimental rebreathing model, both hypothetical (dry, exhaled air +20 degrees C) and more physiological conditions (heated, humidified exhaled air, room temperature +20 degrees C; with and without pooling of cold air within the shaft) were tested. With exhaled air at +20 degrees C, the CO2 concentration increased to about 10% within 5 min. The increase was faster the smaller the volume, and the smaller the opening of the cot shaft. When expiratory air was heated, the CO2 concentration increased with the same speed as when the shaft was closed, but to only 0.1-0.3% when the shaft was open. Pooling of cold air in the shaft increased CO2 accumulation 70-200 times the concentration in air (to <5.5%) when the shaft was open. Turbulence of the air outside the open shaft reduced the increase in CO2 concentration. The experiments imply that CO2 may accumulate around an infant's head when placed deep in a cot or pram with the bedding and walls creating a narrow, vertical, shaft-like tunnel to the surrounding air. Although the CO2 concentration may theoretically attain dangerous levels in such circumstances, a rapid equilibrium between the air within and outside the cot usually occurs due to convection of the expiratory air and turbulence from drafts, the infant's body movements and breathing. Such factors will largely eliminated any significant rebreathing with the exception of the extreme situation when expired air is contained within a closed space.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide* / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Models, Biological
  • Respiration*
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*


  • Carbon Dioxide