OBESE mothers as well as those who smoke, drink alcohol and have a poor diet are keeping infant death rates high, a new report in Yorkshire revealed yesterday.
Health bosses in Kirklees are anxious to further reduce infant death rates in the area, which at one stage were among the highest in the country.
Numbers of fatalities have fallen but local figures are still higher than the national average.
Across Kirklees, the infant death rate was 6.1 per 1,000 live births for the period 2007-9, compared to the national average of 4.7.
But the figures show infant death rates are improving substantially, falling from 8.2 per 1,000 births in 2002-4, when death rates were almost three times those in parts of North Yorkshire, to 5.5 in 2008-10.
The report makes further recommendations for improvements but acknowledges change is generational and will take some time to achieve.
The main reasons for fatalities are prematurity and congenital abnormality which is in keeping with national findings.
In Kirklees, more than half of babies who die are born prematurely.
Deborah Collis, assistant director of public health for Kirklees, said: “The increasing rate we faced in 2005 has now begun to decrease, but it is important that we continue work to improve the personal behaviours which contribute to infant deaths across Kirklees being higher than the national average.
“There is no single approach that will achieve this as the reasons for our high rate are complex and varied.
“However, this area of work remains a major priority for us and we will continue to raise awareness and understanding of the issues which affect infant death.”
The report lists factors leading to infant deaths including high levels of maternal obesity among those suffering an infant death across Kirklees, with almost half of mothers overweight or obese. This is linked with complications for both mother and baby.
Smoking, drinking alcohol and poor nutrition also had an impact on infant death as they made low birth weight or early birth more likely.
Smoking levels in white mothers were a particular concern in the report which highlighted the “shocking” fact that 55 per cent of white women in north Kirklees who suffered an infant death had smoked during pregnancy.
Across all groups more deaths occurred in the more disadvantaged groups and in cases where births were registered by mothers alone.
Genetic links between parents in some sections of Pakistani communities also increased the risk of their children having a congenital abnormality.
Mercy Vergis, consultant in public health, said: “The vast majority of babies in Kirklees are born healthy, but as the audit shows, some groups are more vulnerable than others.
“However, there are things that services and local people can do to mitigate some of the risks, and help and support are available.
“The key messages are that general health before, during and after pregnancy are important and it is best to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
“Breastfeeding ensures good nutrition in the first six months and can help guard against infections.”