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Unexplained deaths of babies rise in UK

Staff Writer |
The number of unexplained deaths of babies in England and Wales has increased for the first time in three years, figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.

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The figures showed that in 2016, the last year for which figures are available, there were 219 unexplained infant deaths. That meant more than four babies aged under one year were dying every week from no known cause, many referred to as cot or crib deaths.

Unexplained infant deaths accounted for 8.3 percent of all infant deaths occurring in 2016, compared with 7.6 percent in 2015, said ONS.

ONS said in its report: "Sudden infant deaths are those that have been recorded to have been caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This figure would include infant deaths where there was any mention of the terms 'sudden infant death', 'cot death', 'SIDS', 'crib death' or another similar term anywhere on the death certificate."

The unexplained infant mortality rate remained the highest among mother's aged less than 20 years, while the unexplained infant mortality rate among very low birth weight (under 1,500 grams) babies also increased compared with 2015.

ONS statistician Vasita Patel said: "While unexplained infant deaths increased in 2016 for the first time in three years the total remains low in historical terms. The increase was driven by a rise in unascertained deaths among infant girls."

The term 'cot death' was commonly used in the past in Britain to describe the sudden and unexpected death of an infant. It has largely been abandoned, due to its misleading suggestions that a sudden infant death can only occur when a baby is asleep in their own cot, which is now known to be untrue, added ONS.

The ONS study added: "It is not possible to say with any degree of certainty what has caused the change in numbers of unexplained infant deaths. However, there are various factors that put babies at higher risk."

Maternal smoking during pregnancy or postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke has been associated with unexplained infant deaths.

Other risk factors include low birth weight and maternal age. Overheating and an unsafe sleeping environment, such as the baby's head being covered have also been linked with unexplained infant deaths. Further risk factors include sleeping position, not breastfeeding, temperature and sleep environments including unplanned bed-sharing and sleeping with a baby on a sofa.

Over the last 10 years, the number of unexplained infant deaths has declined by 23.2 percent in England and Wales.

In the latest figures the lowest rate of unexplained baby deaths was in London and the South East region of England.

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