Study reviews sudden unexpected infant deaths

By Hollie Ewers on 27 July 2018 Safe Sleep Research

For the first time in England a study has been conducted of official investigations of unexpected infant deaths.

Academics at the University of Warwick aimed to develop a detailed understanding of the circumstances of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) cases subject to serious case review.
The research found that most SUDI cases occurred in hazardous sleep environments and are potentially preventable. It also revealed that cases occurred in families well known to services with concerns about neglect, substance misuse and poor engagement.
SUDI is defined as the sudden and unexplained death of an infant that had not been considered as a reasonable possibility in the previous 48 hours.
The published research paper, Qualitative analysis of serious case reviews into unexpected infant deaths, examined serious case reviews in England from April 2011 to March 2014.

The cases were of infants aged 0 to two where no clear medical or forensic cause of death was found. 
The researchers gained access to 27 out of the 30 reviews that were held during the time period. They found in 18 cases parents did not engage with professionals, 18 families suffered alcohol or drug dependency, there were 14 cases of parental mental health problems, in 13 cases parents had criminal records and there were nine cases of domestic abuse.
The analysis of the 27 reviews also highlighted that 18 deaths occurred in highly hazardous sleep environments; 16 of those involved co-sleeping and 13 of those occurred with parents who were drunk or had taken drugs.
The Lullaby Trust’s director of services Jenny Ward said: ‘We welcome this study, which demonstrates the urgent need to ensure safer sleep advice reaches all parents and carers, particularly vulnerable families where extra support is often most needed. While reaching vulnerable parents can be challenging, the study shows that it could ultimately save babies’ lives.’
Published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the paper concluded that more consideration is needed on how best to support such vulnerable families. 

Research team leader Dr Joanna Garstang said: ‘Despite 25 years of safe sleep campaigns, some parents are still not receiving, not hearing, not understanding, or choosing not to follow this advice, resulting in many infants being exposed to hazardous sleep situations. Future research needs to focus on how best to support and engage with these vulnerable families.’