Children from a national birth cohort living in families in which a sibling had died or been stillborn were compared with children living in similarly structured families where no such tragedy had occurred by a number of health, developmental, and behavioural outcomes. Surprisingly little ill effect from a sibling death (occurring either before or after the birth of study children) was apparent at the age of 5 years. Families experiencing a stillbirth or death of a child were socially disadvantaged. Even allowing for this and other likely intervening factors, however, a child whose adjacent sibling had died was significantly more liable to bronchitis or wheezing during the first 5 years. Mothers who had experienced the death of a child since the study child's birth had high scores on a psychological screening test, and were more likely to be single parents. Mothers who had lost a child were more likely to smoke during the next pregnancy. No significant differences between cases and control subjects were detected on other health, behavioural, or developmental outcomes. Stillbirth or death of a child appears to have little measurable effect on siblings assessed at 5 years of age. This study does not exclude important longer term psychological effects from sibling death.
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