Co-sleeping deaths preventable


Anyone who went to Sunday School will probably know the story of Solomon:

Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had an infant son came to Solomon for a judgment. One of the women claimed that the other, after accidentally smothering her own son while sleeping, had exchanged the two children to make it appear that the living child was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the mother of the living son and said that the dead boy belonged to the other. After some deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He declared that there was only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. The liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, “It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!” However, upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy’s true mother cried out, “Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!”

All those hundreds of years ago the danger of sharing a bed with a baby was known.

Cot deaths, or Sudden Infant Death syndrome was prevalent when our children were born. It was particularly high in New Zealand and research established that co-sleeping was a very high risk factor.

That was more than 20 years ago and the message still hasn’t got through:

Deaths caused by infants sleeping with their mothers have reached epidemic proportions, a coroner says.

In the Rotorua coroner’s court today, coroner Wallace Bain listed a litany of deaths caused by co-sleeping both in New Zealand and overseas saying the problem was on-going. . .

Noting there had been 55-60 preventable deaths nationwide in recent years, 26 in the Rotorua region in five years involving infants sharing beds with adults, he said parents continued to put their children at risk.

He said midwives appeared to have changed their practice of advising co-sleeping, something he’d refer more formally to in his findings which he reserved.

He urged the media to “get the no co-sleeping message out there”.

Last month an international study was released which said up to 88 percent of children who died while sleeping with their parents may not have died if they were sleeping on their own. 

It was from the biggest ever study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and results showed that even when neither parent smoked, and the baby was less than three months old, breastfed and the mother did not drink or take drugs, the risk of SIDS was five times higher if sleeping with a parent, than if the baby had slept in a cot next to their parents’ bed.

Smoking, being drunk and taking drowsiness-inducing drugs further increases the risk.

The research is unequivocal about the risks and reducing them is easy.

Babies should sleep in their own beds.


Once could be a tragic mistake


Two or three decades ago cot deaths were sadly not uncommon in New Zealand.

When my sons were in hospital in Dunedin a lot of research was being done and protocols were established to protect babies.

That is now routine advice – put babies to sleep on their backs and don’t share beds with them.

But not everyone gets the advice, or heeds it. I’ve noticed several stories in recent months of babies dying when sharing beds.

All are tragedies and this is more than tragic:

An East Coast couple, 31-year-old Sybil Harrison and Elray Marsh, were sentenced to intensive supervision in the Gisborne District Court yesterday. They admitted they put 10-week-old Elray Jr in bed with Ms Harrison after she’d been drinking heavily in 2011.

The death followed an incident with the couple’s baby daughter just a year earlier, who died in similar circumstances. . .

The death of one child from a preventable cause is a tragic mistake.

The second is tragic and there is no suggestion it was deliberate, but how could anyone not learn from the first tragedy?

Apropos of this case is a report which says 50 infants have died from suffocation:

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee says it’s becoming clear a considerable proportion of deaths that might previously have been attributed to sudden unexpected death in infants (SUDI) have occurred because of unsafe sleeping situations.

The research found that of 79 cases of unintentional suffocation between 2002 and 2009, 50 involved infants who died where they were sleeping.

The overwhelming majority – 96% – of the deaths were of children under one and they were often caused by what the report calls overlay by another person. . .

These were preventable deaths.

Prof Barry Taylor honoured


Professor Barry Taylor has received the Montgomery Spencer Memorial Oration.

It is awarded by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and recognises a New Zealand paediatrician’s contribution to child health.

Barry is a specialist in paediatrics and child health and was the consultant who cared for our sons.

They had degenerative brain disorders. Barry went many extra miles to find a diagnosis and when that wasn’t possible, to make sure they had as good a quality of life as was possible.

It is of immense comfort to us to know that everything possible was done for our sons in their short lives. Barry as the leader of the team who looked after them on their repeated visits to Dunedin Hospital, played a very important role in that.

Cot death was a major concern at that time and Barry was one of the leading researchers into what caused it and how to prevent it.

The award comes from his peers. He has also more than earned one from the children he treated and their parents.

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