SPEN and Birkenshaw have recorded some of the most significant falls in baby death rates in Kirklees, according to a new report.
The latest figures show that both areas were above the Kirklees average for the rate of infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004-06.
But by 2008-10, the rate for both was below the 5.5 average for the district, and Birkenshaw and Birstall had the third lowest rate of deaths in babies before 12 months.
Infant Deaths In Kirklees, published yesterday by NHS Kirklees and Kirklees Council, looks in greater detail at the 270 deaths in the district between 2002 and 2008, and the work carried out since a similar report for North Kirklees in 2005.
Assistant director of public health for Kirklees Deborah Collis 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.”
While the report highlighted good progress in reducing the rate, it also revealed shocking figures for the number of women smoking during pregnancy.
It found that more than half of white women in North Kirklees whose babies died had smoked during pregnancy, something which increases the chance of a lower birth weight and, in turn, infant death.
In South Kirklees, 36 per cent of women had continued to smoke.
Ms Collis said: “Smoking is the big issue because it’s the one you can most easily do things about. It’s in people’s control.”
Obesity was another factor with 48 per cent of the women in Kirklees being classed as overweight or obese.
Consultant in public health Dr Mercy Vergis said: “It’s a very high figure and this was worse in North Kirklees and in Pakistani mothers.”
In North Kirklees the figure was 51 per cent and among Pakistani women it was 55 per cent.
The main reasons for death locally were early births, most commonly among white babies, and congenital abnormality, which was more common among Pakistani babies.
Dr Vergis said: “There are many causes for congenital abnormalities.
“There are genetic factors or infection, and things like smoking and maternal obesity all contribute.”
Other factors linked to infant deaths include deprivation, ethnicity and the age of mothers.
l See next week’s Guardian for more on the work being done to cut infant death rates.