Woman ignored Plunket advice prior to baby's death

  • 04/12/2015

Police are defending their decision to prosecute the mother of a baby girl who died while sleeping in a bed with her and a sibling.

The 27-year-old woman, whose name was suppressed, was sentenced in Hastings District Court on Thursday to 12 months' supervision after pleading guilty to criminal nuisance by not providing a safe sleeping environment.

Detective Sergeant Tim Smith says the mother woke the morning of October 22, 2013 to discover her baby unresponsive, and her two-year-old son's arm over her daughter's face. They were all sharing a queen-sized bed.

The cause of death was determined as sudden unexpected death in infancy, (SUDI), due to an unsafe sleeping environment. This was attributed to probable accidental asphyxia by being overlain by her sibling.

Maori public health physician Dr David Tipene-Leach told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme "mothers sleep with babies". He said police had turned the woman into a criminal and the prosecution was inappropriate and over-zealous.

Det Sgt Smith said the death was preventable.

"It is not our aim to revictimise parents after the tragic death of a child and any prosecution is taken after careful consideration of all the circumstances."

Det Sgt Smith said the mother and her partner had been given comprehensive information on co-sleeping and other risk factors when their baby was born premature.

A family safety plan was prepared and the couple were given a pepi-pod by health authorities to use in bed as there was such a concern about co-sleeping.

The pepi-pod was found leaning against the wall in the bedroom, unused.

Both the parents were smokers and the mother smoked during pregnancy, Det Sgt Smith said.

"In situations such as this where there has been a significant departure from the standard of care expected of parents, criminal charges will be considered," he said.

Judge Bridget Mackintosh said it was critical the message not to co-sleep with babies got out to the public, and said it was difficult to imagine health professionals could have done more to warn the woman.

She acknowledged the woman's remorse and that she had no previous convictions.

The mother has to attend counselling and programmes as directed by the Probation Service.

The issue of safe sleeping arrangements for babies was also highlighted on Friday by the national Maori SUDI prevention organisation, Whakawhetu, as it marked safe sleep day.

Maori have developed the wahakura, a woven flax pod that keeps babies safe when they are in bed with adults.