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Sudden infant death numbers rise for first time in three years

The Lullaby Trust, which raises awareness of SIDS, said it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the increase.

The number of babies dying from unexplained causes has increased for the first time in three years, new figures show.

There were 219 deaths caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or without a known cause in England and Wales in 2016.

This is up from 195 the previous year and the highest number since 2013 when there were 252.

However there has been an overall drop in unexplained infant deaths over the last decade, with the number falling 23.2% since 2006.

Charity The Lullaby Trust, which raises awareness of SIDS, said it was “deeply concerned” by the recent rise.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), include deaths among children less than one year old from SIDS and when no medical cause can be recorded.

SIDS is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an otherwise seemingly healthy baby.

The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, but maternal smoking during pregnancy, exposure to tobacco smoke, overheating and an unsafe sleeping environment have been linked to unexplained infant deaths.

It is essential that this remains a top priority for local authorities Francine Bates, The Lullaby Trust

Francine Bates, chief executive of The Lullaby Trust, said: “We are deeply concerned by the increased SIDS rate in England and Wales.

“The previous downward trend in SIDS deaths has been largely attributed to increased awareness of safer sleep advice so it is essential that this remains a top priority for local authorities and all professionals working with families.

“SIDS rates are highest in the most deprived areas and we worry that pressures on local authorities’ public health budgets and the increasing number of families being pushed into poverty will lead to slower progress or even further increases in the number of deaths.

“We urge local authorities to ensure there is adequate funding for health visitors and early years staff who provide crucial safer sleep advice to families with new babies.”

Around half (51.6%) of sudden infant deaths in 2016 were boys, down from 66.7% the previous year. Girls accounted for 48.4%, up from 33.3% in 2015.

The highest unexplained infant mortality rates were in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and The Humber, and North West of England, where there were 0.45 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The largest increase was in the West Midlands, where rates rose by 21.6% between 2015 and 2016.

Vasita Patel, from the ONS, 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.

“However, due to the low numbers involved the overall increase in unexplained infant deaths is not statistically significant.”

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