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Home > Research Articles > Increased Risk of Cot Death in Infants of Depressed Mothers

Health Media Ltd

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Increased Risk of Cot Death in Infants of Depressed Mothers Health Media Ltd - August 06, 2002

Well-known risk factors for SIDS, also known as "cot death" in the UK, include sleeping position and parental smoking.

Recent research suggests that parental psychological factors may also be associated. A previous study in New Zealand showed that the rate of SIDS was three times higher in the infants of depressed mothers than those of non-depressed controls. To confirm these studies in a UK population, Dr C Sanderson and colleagues from Sheffield Children's Hospital analysed data from the Sheffield Child Development Study, a project designed to provide data about risk factors for sudden infant death. Obstetric, neonatal and demographic data were collected at birth. At one month postpartum, mothers completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), in which high-recorded scores are an indicator of clinical depression. During the five-year study period, 32,984 live births were recorded and 42 babies died from SIDS. A total of 4,333 women had high EPDS scores, 13 of whom had lost an infant due to SIDS. Multivariate analysis revealed that smoking was the most important risk factor for SIDS, followed by a high EPDS score and residence in an area of poverty. A number of other factors, such as maternal age, number of previous pregnancies, birth weight and mode of infant feeding at one month (breast or bottle), were not considered statistically significant risk factors for SIDS. Although the nature of the association is unknown, the study authors believe that postnatal depression is an independent risk factor for SIDS and further research is needed to identify infants (and mothers) at risk. "Depression is a common and important mental health problem for mothers of young children, but it is frequently unrecognised by health professionals and sometimes by the mother herself," the researchers said. They note, however, some limitations of their study. For example, it has been documented that some women falsify their responses to the EPDS for fear that their babies will be taken into care. Commenting on these findings, Dr Bruce Pitt, chair of the Association for Postnatal Illness, said, "The last thing that depressed mothers need is exacerbation of their guilt and fears." Reference: Sanderson et al, British Journal of General Practice 2002;52:636-640

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