Experts said that flying appeared to be safe in the first year of life although it was probably wise to wait a week after birth to ensure the infant was healthy.
They were responding to findings from a study of 34 infants who were exposed to air containing 6 per cent less oxygen than normal, similar to that in an aircraft cabin or up a mountain. The babies were carefully monitored and four suffered a fall in oxygen levels in their blood associated with disturbed heart rhythms and shortness of breath. They were given extra oxygen immediately.
The study, by Professor David Southall and colleagues from the North Staffordshire Hospital Centre, in Stoke-on-Trent, published in the British Medical Journal, was carried out after two sets of parents seen at the hospital reported losing a child to cot death after a long-haul flight. Yesterday, Anne Diamond, the television presenter who has played prominent role in cot death campaigns, disclosed that her own baby son died two days after a flight.
In an editorial in the BMJ, Anthony Milner, professor of neonatology at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said the findings needed to be put in context. British Airways, which flies more than 34 million passengers a year, says there have been no recorded instances of cot deaths during a flight in the past 10 years.
Professor Milner said the physiological effects of breathing low levels of oxygen on infants had been carefully studied, but these did not necessarily mean they were at greater risk. "All the epidemiological evidence indicates that ... flying appears to be safe in the first year of life."
The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths said: "The study did not demonstrate a greater cot death risk on an aeroplane than on the ground. It tells us that some babies react more dramatically than others to a drop in oxygen and this is an interesting finding which needs to be pursued in further research."`