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Finding An Explanation For Infant Mortality

March 6, 2009, 6:13 PM by Kelli Grant

Finding An Explanation For Infant Mortality
Many pregnancies go as planned: no problems, no medical emergencies.

But then there are those with unexpected twists and turns. And even when a baby is born, sometimes unexplained and even unpreventable deaths happen. But a study at Sanford Women’s Health hopes to find an explanation.

Andrea Smith is about to become a new mother. Only three and half weeks away from her due date, she's helping researchers learn about infant mortality.

“The Safe Passage study is really to try and find cause for why some infants die both during pregnancy as well as during the first year of life,” Dr. Amy Elliott with the Safe Passage study said.

Sanford Women's is one of a handful of sites in South Dakota, North Dakota and South Africa involved in the Safe Passage study.  Researchers hope by studying women and their babies, they can identify the mechanisms involved in unexplained deaths and pinpoint which babies are at risk.

“When you look at sudden infant death syndrome, in particular, there's no profile that can tell us who is at risk for these deaths and they occur unexpectedly,” Dr. Elliot said.

Smith didn't hesitate to participate.

“I had a friend of mine that had a baby die of SIDS about a year and a half ago so that was kind of my motive to do it,” Smith said.

In all, the five sites are recruiting a total of 12,000 women. More than 2,000 will come from the Sioux Falls area. Right now, 500 mothers are enrolled locally.

“We ask women a variety of different questions. These women give us tremendous gifts of letting us into their lives,” Dr. Elliot said.

Questions like do you smoke or drink and about family medical history are asked.  Depression and anxiety are also measured.

Smith and all the study's participants continue with prenatal care, but aid in research two to three times during their pregnancy.

“I hope any way that they feel like they're contributing to something larger and are really helping us advance knowledge. That is what we're trying to do,” Dr. Elliot said. 

Once Smith's baby is born, researchers will follow up again at one-month-old and on the baby’s first birthday.

“Most of our babies, thank goodness go on to live very healthy happy lives and in the very unfortunate case where some don't make it through pregnancy or through infancy, we know a tremendous about that baby before it passed away and can look at that to see is there any clues,” Dr. Elliot said.

Mothers can't volunteer, but rather are recruited for the study.  Four out of every five women at Sanford women's will be asked to participate.

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