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Babies suffocated by breastfeeding mothers

Wednesday 19 Dec 2012 5:25 a.m.

Birthcare has reviewed its safe sleeping policy (file pic)

Birthcare has reviewed its safe sleeping policy (file pic)

By Cleo Fraser

A coroner has made recommendations to hospitals about safe bedsharing with infants after two babies died from asphyxia when their mothers fell asleep while breastfeeding in hospital.

A two-month-old boy, who was a twin, died on January 11, 2010 after his mother fell asleep while breastfeeding him at the neonatal intensive care unit at Auckland Starship Children's Hospital.

In a report released on Wednesday, Coroner Katharine Greig ruled the boy died from accidental asphyxia while in an unsafe sleeping environment.

She found hospital staff hadn't told the mother not to breastfeed her child while lying down in the parent room which wasn't subject to direct clinical supervision.

There was no safe sleeping policy in place on the neonatal ward. The hospital has since taken preventative steps.

In a separate report released on the same day, Ms Greig ruled that a two-day-old girl died in similar circumstances on February 2, 2011 at Auckland Birthcare Hospital.

The baby died from accidental asphyxia while being breastfed by her mother in the early hours of the morning as she lay on a hospital bed.

A nurse was aware the mother was breastfeeding in bed and checked on the baby a number of times.

The girl died during the two hours she was in bed with her mother, but no-one realised something was wrong with the infant until about 8am.

The hospital didn't have a safe sleeping policy in place. Birthcare has since implemented a safe sleeping policy.

The most common cause of death from unintentional injury for infants in New Zealand in their first year of life is suffocation in places they sleep.

Bedsharing is the cause of more than half of infants aged under 12 months who die suddenly and unexpectedly.

Among the coroner's recommendations:

  • Ministry of Health lead an initiative to create national guidelines on bedsharing;
  • The ministry ensures all birthing centres and maternity hospitals that receive public funding have safe sleeping policies;
  • Auckland District Health Board ensure it has a safe sleeping policy for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and that it audits its effectiveness;
  • Birthcare review its safe sleeping policy and ensure staff receive training about risks;
  • All district health boards urgently put in a place a safe sleeping policy for infants, especially in the neonatal units.

NZN

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