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Cot death risk `before birth'.

Byline: By Victoria Mitchell

Mothers who have placenta defects during pregnancy are up to three times more likely to have a baby who suffers a cot death, research suggested yesterday.

A study of mothers in the west of Scotland found that more than half of all babies who died unexpectedly were likely to have experienced problems in the womb.

A total of 354 babies died of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) during 2003 in the UK.

It is still the most common cause of death in infants in the industrialised world, say experts.

During the study of birth records, scientists found babies may have been deprived of oxygen or nutrients before birth, impeding the development of the brain functions controlling the heart and lungs.

Researchers at Cambridge University and the Department of Public Health at Greater Glasgow Health Board concluded that this put the babies at greater risk from environmental stresses after birth, such as cigarette smoke, which is known to increase the incidence of cot death.

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) funded the research.

Dr Richard Wilson, consultant paediatrician and FSID trustee said: "This is excellent research. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths will continue to fund research on avoidable risk factors for Sids.

"It's crucial that all parents follow the proven advice to reduce the risk of cot death by sleeping babies on the back."

Experts looked at the records of 214,000 women who gave birth in Scotland between 1991 and 2001 ( 114 suffering cot deaths.

All of the women underwent the standard tests during their pregnancies.

These included a check of levels of Alpha Feto Protein (AFP) which is found in the blood of pregnant women.

AFP levels are already checked during the second trimester of pregnancy as an indicator of the risk that a baby will be born with congenital defects such as spina bifida or Down's syndrome.

Higher AFP levels however can also indicate placental abnormalities.

It was found that those women who had higher AFP levels had a greater risk of having a baby who died from cot death.

The research found that there were 7.5 cot deaths per 100,000 births among women with the highest AFP levels, compared with 2.7 among those with the lowest.

Gordon Smith, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Cambridge, said: "In at least half of cot deaths, there is a biological vulnerability that puts the babies at increased risk.

"This is probably an underestimate and we could say there is a biological determinant for the majority of Sids deaths.

"This study shows a clear link between the intrauterine environment and Sids and that it is one of the risk factors for Sids."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2004
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