'Unsafe' newborn practice still being pushed

By Cherie Taylor -
File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Parents of newborn babies are receiving conflicting messages about sleeping with their newborn babies.

Hospital staff are telling them it is safe in some situations to sleep with their babies while coroners throughout the country repeatedly send the message that it is an unsafe practice.

Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain emphasised the risk of sleeping with babies during recent inquests held into the deaths of two Rotorua babies who died while sleeping with siblings.

A 4-week-old premature baby girl died in March last year while sharing a bed with two other young children, and a 5-month-old boy is believed to have suffocated after sliding under blankets while sharing a double bed with his twin sister.

One Rotorua lead maternity carer is advising parents to use drawers or banana boxes if they don't have a bassinet for their baby to sleep in to avoid such tragedies.

Mothers have told The Daily Post they were advised by Rotorua midwives and hospital staff that it was fine to sleep with their unsettled babies.

One mother, who didn't want to be named, said a midwife told her it was okay to put her newborn son in bed with her if he was unsettled. "[She said] he wouldn't know what was going on and it would settle him," the woman said.

Rotorua Hospital communications officer Sue Wilkie said that as a result of recent research on the issue, it was considered safe in some situations to sleep with babies when they were being breast-fed.

However, there were clear guidelines to be adhered to including not doing so when drugs had been taken or when someone was smoking or if the parent was a heavy sleeper, she said.

"There are clear criteria for when babies shouldn't share sleeping spaces."

A Gisborne doctor developed a special flax basket for babies to sleep in while in the same bed as an adult. There were similar type bassinets available on the retail market, Mrs Wilkie said.

Rotorua midwife Maureen O'Reilly said if there was no separate bed available for a baby to safely sleep in alone, a banana box or clean and dry drawer with adequate covering was suitable.

She said it was vital young babies had their own space to sleep in as they could easily be suffocated by an adult or accidently laid on by siblings, restricting their breathing.

Mrs O'Reilly said the Ministry of Health had promoted the safe sleeping programme but sadly some parents were ignoring the warnings.

It was important parents ensured babies had their own sleeping space, she said.

Along with the chance of being accidentally suffocated, obesity, deep sleep and fatigue were other factors which could put babies at risk.

"Top paediatricians say a drawer, so long as it is safe and properly padded and warm, is okay for laying a baby down to sleep in."

Putting a baby in a cot or bed too big for them wasn't appropriate as they could slip down under the blankets and suffocate. A baby's bed also needed to be free of soft toys and pillows.

Dr Bain has reserved his findings on the deaths of the two Rotorua babies who died while sharing beds with other children last year.

He heard the 4-week-old baby girl who was found dead in a bed she shared with two siblings normally slept with her mother. However, on this occasion the baby was wrapped up and placed on her stomach in a queen-size bed with two other pre-school children.

When Dr Bain asked the mother if she knew about the dangers of babies sleeping with others, she replied she did but didn't think it was that dangerous as it was a regular practice within her whanau (family).

"No one has ever died before," the woman told Dr Bain.

"You see everyone else doing it and nothing happens. We didn't see an issue with it before."

Dr Bain said it was vital parents got the message.

"It's a widespread practice but we have to get the message out there that it is a risk," he said.

Regarding the other case, the coroner heard the 5-month-old boy was discovered not breathing under the blankets on a double bed he had been sharing with his twin sister. The twins were sleeping at opposite ends of the bed.

Dr Bain told the family the weight of an adult's hand on the chest of a baby was enough to restrict breathing.

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