The new study findings did not surprise David P. Phillips, a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, who also has reported a link between parental alcohol intake and SIDS deaths. As alcohol consumption rises -- such as on New Year's and weekends -- so do the number of SIDS deaths, he found.
"We know that when people are under the influence of alcohol, they perform tasks much more poorly, including parenting," he said.
For the new study, the Australian researchers evaluated nearly 78,000 live births from 1983 to 2005. They found nearly 22,000 of the mothers had an alcohol diagnosis such as acute alcohol intoxication or dependence. About 56,000 did not.
In all, more than 300 children died from SIDS and nearly 600 others died of other causes.
Although the study found an association between infant death and maternal drinking, it didn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The researchers can't explain exactly why alcohol abuse and SIDS are linked. They speculate that the alcohol has a bad effect on the development of the brainstem during pregnancy.
Alcohol disorders after pregnancy may lead to parental behavior that harms the child, Phillips said. A mother or father, for instance, might roll over onto a sleeping baby in the bed after drinking too much, he said.
Another expert said the new study could help make a difference.
"This study will probably shed light on a problem that is basically preventable," said Dr. Magaly Diaz-Barbosa, medical director of neonatology at Miami Children's Hospital, and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
''If we can modify this risk factor, we could actually affect and decrease the number of SIDS victims," she said.
The percent of women with an alcohol problem in the Australian study was high, at about 28 percent, Diaz-Barbosa said. Fewer U.S. w
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