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To determine whether maternal exposure to pre-eclampsia/eclampsia during pregnancy increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in offspring, we conducted a population-based case–control study using the California linked birth and death certificate data. All infants who died of SIDS (ICD-9 code 798.0) during 1989–91 were identified as cases. More than 96% of the identified SIDS cases were diagnosed through autopsy. Ten controls who did not die from SIDS were randomly selected for each case from the birth certificate matched to the case on the year of birth. Among 2029 cases and 21 037 controls included in the final analysis, mothers of 49 cases (2.4%) and 406 controls (1.9%) had a diagnosis of either pre-eclampsia or eclampsia noted on the birth certificate. After adjustment for maternal age, prenatal smoking, race/ethnicity, parity, maternal education, gestational age at the initial visit for prenatal care, infant year of birth and infant sex, maternal pre-eclampsia/eclampsia during pregnancy was associated with a 50% increased risk of SIDS in the offspring (odds ratio = 1.5, 95% confidence interval 1.1, 2.0). Potential under-reporting of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia on the birth certificates was likely to be non-differential and is unlikely to explain the finding. Fetal hypoxia resulting from pre-eclampsia/eclampsia or immunological aetiology affecting the risk of both pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and SIDS may explain the finding.