UK university's research throws light on early infant mortality


A major study of all 137 newborn babies who died in Scotland during a two-year period reveals that the majority had brain damage which occurred during pregnancy.

The research, headed by Professor Neil McIntosh of the University of Edinburgh ( involved pediatricians, obstetricians and pathologists from Scotland, failed to identify any indicators in the mothers or their pregnancies and labors which could predict the birth of a compromised baby.

These findings, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (, are expected to help parents and medical professionals who feel they should have noticed problems prior to or during the birth, and could also reduce legal actions taken against doctors and midwives for perceived mismanagement of pregnancy and labor.

Professor McIntosh, who is also a neonatal consultant with NHS Lothian- University Hospitals Division said, "It has long been known that only about 10 percent of babies dying in the newborn period have problems identified during labor and delivery which require urgent medical intervention and special neonatal care. There has always been anxiety that important signs are being missed in the other 90 percent and that management during childbirth is negligent in some way."

"In this huge study, we carried out detailed examinations on the brains of newborn infants where the parents consented to autopsy: almost two-thirds of the 137 babies involved. Our group has been able to show that in 36 percent of babies born early and in 61 percent of those born at term there is evidence of significant brain damage that clearly happened before labor began. This is far more common in infants born in an asphyxiated (suffocated) condition."

"All of the full-term infants who had an acidosis (a metabolic disorder); a low mark on the Apgar score, which measures appearance of skin color, breathing, muscle tone and other factors in newborn babies; and who then went on to have brain problems, had evidence of pre-existing damage. More than half of the babies born with any one of these feature of asphyxia also had evidence of earlier damage."

Professor McIntosh praised the families who helped with the major research project. He said, "We are indebted to the parents who, despite the turmoil surrounding the deaths of their infants and knowing that the results would not personally help them at their time of grief, allowed these detailed investigations to proceed. We intend that this study will lead to more research into the monitoring of pregnancies."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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