A study of more than 11,000 babies in England between 2007 and 2011 has shown that children born to first cousins or older mothers have a higher risk of suffering from birth defects such as Down syndrome and heart and lung issues. However the overall risk to any one child is still low.
The study was conducted in Bradford, which has a large Pakistani community. Of the Pakistani marriages in the study, about 37 percent were between first cousins, while less than one percent of British marriages are. Thirty-one percent of birth defects for Pakistani babies were accounted for the by the large number of marriages between first cousins. The rate of birth defects found in babies born in Bradford is nearly double that of the rate found in the United Kingdom overall.
The overall risk of a child suffering from a birth defect is small. The risk rises from three percent in children born to unrelated parents to six percent for children born to first cousins. Additionally, for mothers who are aged 35 or older the risk is four percent, while it is two percent for women under 35 years of age. This means that only a small number of babies who are born to couples who are related or older women will have a birth defect.
The socioeconomic status of the mothers, nor the smoking, drinking, or level of obesity of mothers explain the level of birth defects. However, the level of education among mothers did have an impact, with higher educated mother being half as likely to have a child with birth defects. Since marriage among blood relatives being common in many parts of the world, clear information and counseling about the increased risk of birth defects in children born to blood relatives should be provided to hopefully prevent birth defects.
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