Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

The co-sleeping debate

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Up to 12 newborn babies in Auckland each year die because they've been accidentally smothered in an adult bed.

That's the shocking statistic that's come out in the wake of the latest smothering death - that of a six-week-old west Auckland boy last week.

It's shocking because, despite some warnings that come with official material when you have your baby, almost all mothers sleep with their newborns, particularly in the early weeks when breast-feeding's happening around the clock and exhaustion prevents you from leaving your prone position more than absolutely necessary.

Mothers all over the world comfort and cuddle their newborns this way and I don't think it's going to go out of fashion anytime soon, even though there are risks.

While hopefully not many new mothers are drinking themselves stupid with young babies to feed, it has also been said that extreme exhaustion is a kind of stupor that might prevent you from waking properly if you were to be crushing your little one.

I remember vividly being almost completely unable to breastfeed while sitting upright in the middle of the night after the first baby - exhaustion - and collapsing during the feed, only to be woken up when my baby was prized from under me by a very worried husband.

That problem was solved by learning to breastfeed lying down. For the second baby I didn't even try putting her in a separate cot to begin with, and simply slept in with her, which was easier for me and her but rather more difficult for everyone else!

Police and coroners are stepping up to the plate and saying that newborns should not be in bed with mum and dad.

Bizarrely, they are also advocating the use of banana boxes for newborns. Are there people in New Zealand today who have to put babies in their double beds, or even in banana boxes, because they can not afford a cot?

If so, perhaps there's a case for ensuring every baby in the land has a cot to go home to, in much the same way every baby has a car seat to be ferried about in.

And yes, it is a case of nanny state having to step in when parents will not or can not. But should children suffer more than they already will for the follies of their parents?

I think the more worrying issue is that people with newborns are drinking heavily and taking drugs around newborns. Anyone who has had one knows it's hard enough to be stone cold sober and in charge of a wailing, red-faced bundle of bittersweet, let alone drunk or stoned.

Surely this is a red flag for the type of care a child is going to receive on an ongoing basis, and in the light of Nia Glassie and other stomach-churning cases we've come to learn about in the last decade, we might need to be a little bit more tuned into any red flags that present themselves.

Dita De Boni

AP Photo / Andreas Frossard

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