An investigation has been launched into a spike in deaths among newborn babies in Scotland.
Official figures reveal that 21 infants died during September within 28 days of birth, causing the neonatal mortality rate to breach an upper warning threshold known as the ‘control limit’ for the first time in at least four years.
Control and warning limits are designed to flag up to public health teams when neonatal, stillbirth or other infant deaths are occurring at unexpectedly high or low levels which may not be due to chance.
Concerns have previously been raised about the potential impact of Covid on maternity services and maternal wellbeing, but it is the first time since the pandemic began that neonatal deaths have been so abnormally above average.
Although the rate fluctuates month to month, the figure for September – at 4.9 per 1000 live births – is on a par with levels that were last typically seen in the late 1980s.
We wanted to know whether and when babies might discover the importance of a talker’s mouth. So, in one study in my lab, we showed videos of talking faces to babies of different ages and tracked their attention by using an eye-tracking device. We discovered that babies begin lip-reading at around 8 months of age. Crucially, the onset of lip-reading at this age corresponds with the onset of canonical babbling, suggesting that babies begin lip-reading because they become interested in speech and language. By lip-reading, babies now gain access to visual speech cues which, as Janet Werker and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia have shown, are clearly perceptible to them. So, the lip-reading now enables babies to see the visible speech cues that they need to figure out which face goes with which voice. Of course, babies cannot access visible speech cues if others are wearing masks.