Social networks and infant mortality


The number of children who die before the age of one year is higher for women in some minority ethnic communities and for teenage mothers than amongst women in the general population. Support for women at risk and improved services are important ways of reducing disadvantage.

National healthcare policies state that professionals should pay particular attention to women at risk. Professionals may get little practical support to do this, however, and there is very little research evidence about how to meet the needs of women from disadvantaged groups.

Aim & Objectives

This research aims to fill the gap in knowledge about how best to support women who are expecting a child or have recently given birth through answering the following research questions:

  • What is the nature and extent of social networks relating to maternity and labour for women from diverse communities in England and how are these shaped by religious identity, ethnicity, social class and gender?
  • To what extent do relationships within these networks reflect policy aspirations to empower pregnant women and what interventions would support improved outcomes for those currently experiencing the highest rates of infant mortality?


  • Review existing literature and policy about the support women receive and speak to key people in health and social care services. 
  • Interview women who have had different experiences – those who have given birth to a healthy child as well as those who have experienced an infant death. We will ask women about the kind of support they have received and how they received this. From the information we receive, we will explore similarities and differences between women and why these exist.
  • Work with people involved in the study to check out our findings and explore solutions to any problems we find through locally developed projects to enhance support available. 


The sustainability of locally-developed projects to address problems will be explored with research partners and women involved in developing these. Findings will inform the development of policy and practice initiatives to target interventions at women who are at higher risk of experiencing infant mortality

Key findings from this conference were presented at a full day conference: Supporting Women at Higher Risk of Infant Death on 26th September 2013. Presentations and a Key Findings briefing document are available below: