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Other Causes of Mortality in Europe

Transitions such as birth, changes in feeding practices, and teething in the life of an infant are fragile periods. These events could leave the infant vulnerable to infection, especially if the child was weaned early from the breast. As noted previously, breastfeeding offered immunity from many fatal childhood illnesses, particularly respiratory diseases. Teething was generally cited as a cause of death because it coincided with weaning, but it was likely the subsequent offering of food not hygienically prepared, and the introduction of inappropriate foods, which may have caused diarrhea and ultimately death. Once a child reached nine months of age, it was more likely that human intervention could affect changes in mortality. Remarkably, an excess in infant male mortality was observed, even in regions where males are favored (that is, where females are more vulnerable to infanticide than males). During the first two weeks of life, males were almost fifty percent more likely to die than girls. The probability of male mortality rose again between the ages of three to eight months. Reasons cited for this disparity include the fact that boys tend to be less resistant to infection.27

Birth rank was another contributor to high infant mortality. Older mothers tend to give birth to weaker babies. Thus, the youngest child might be less likely to thrive than his older siblings (who had a younger mother). Accordingly, younger siblings were less likely to receive the benefit of a mother’s energy and good health than older siblings. As noted previously though, the presence of an older sister available to help care for new babies could have a positive effect on mortality.28

Death clustering within families is another predictor of high mortality. When a child, particularly an infant, dies it leaves behind a “scarring effect” on the next child. Generally, clustering may be due to characteristics attributed to the mother, the family, or community such as genetics, access to clean water and health care. Scarring can also be attributed to a mother’s grief and depression over the death of a child while pregnant with the next. Depression has been noted to cause physical symptoms such as insomnia and changes in appetite, which can affect the health of an unborn child. Further, when an infant’s death hastens the weaning process, prematurely returning fertility and then pregnancy to the mother, her own health may be compromised because of nutritional depletion, again affecting the health of the new infant. The research has consistently stated that short birth intervals, less than six months, are detrimental to babies due to reduced maternal stores and competition with other children for resources and attention.29 The optimal birth interval is eighteen months. Scarring is noted to be weaker in more developed regions, due to access to better facilities and resources, clean water and education.

 
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