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Losing Child in First Year Might Raise Early Death Risk for Parent
Date:9/8/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Parents, particularly mothers, who experience a stillbirth or the death of a child in infancy have an increased risk of death for many years afterward, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the United Kingdom looked at census and death registry data on parents who had a stillborn child between 1971 and 2006 or whose child died before reaching their first birthday, and compared their rates of death to parents of children who survived past their first year.

The study authors found that mothers and fathers in Scotland who'd lost an infant were more than twice as likely as other parents to die or become widowed in the first 15 years after the child's death.

In England and Wales, the research team only had access to mortality statistics for mothers. They found mothers were more than four times more likely to die during the 15 years after their child's death than parents who hadn't experienced a similar loss.

The risk of death among mothers remained elevated for up to 35 years after the child's death, according to the study published online Sept. 8 in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

The study authors, Mairi Harper of the University of York and colleagues, speculate that the raw grief associated with the death of a child may dampen the immune system, increasing the chances of disease and raising the risk of death.

But other experts cautioned that the researchers did not examine the cause of death in the parents, so there is no way of knowing if grief contributed to the death.

The mothers of children who die before birth or shortly afterward may already have conditions that led to ill health in both the baby and the mother, noted Kenneth Doka, a professor of gerontology at the College of New Rochelle Graduate School and senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America.

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