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Unexplained infant death rates fall to record low

Mild winters and drop in smoking rates among pregnant women are believed to be behind the fall

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The number of unexplained infant deaths recorded in England and Wales in 2014 was the lowest since records began, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

The ONS report Unexplained Deaths in Infancy, England and Wales: 2014, which covers deaths among children under one year of age and includes both sudden infant deaths and deaths for which the cause remained unascertained after being investigated, shows that in 2014 there were 212 unexplained infant deaths (0.30 deaths per 1,000 live births), which was a 17% decrease on the rate in 2013 when there were 252 (a rate of 0.36 deaths per 1,000 live births). The record low seen in 2014 was driven largely by a decrease in sudden infant deaths, which decreased from 165 to 128 deaths. Over ten years, the number has almost halved from 207 sudden infant deaths in 2004.

A recent spate of mild winters and a fall in smoking rates among pregnant women are believed to be behind the fall. 

Rosie Amery, Health Analysis and Life Events, Office for National Statistics said: “Unexplained infant deaths in 2014 were the lowest on record, driven by a decrease in sudden infant deaths. A number of factors may have contributed to the fall including warmer than average temperatures throughout the year, fewer women smoking at the time of delivery and greater awareness of safer sleeping practices.”

Unexplained infant deaths accounted for 8% of all infant deaths occurring in 2014 - 60% of these deaths were recorded as sudden infant deaths with the remaining 40% recorded as unascertained (where no other cause of death is recorded).

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