Baby dies after being breastfed by mother who'd consumed large amount of alcohol the night before

Close-up of a mother changing diapers to her baby boy.
Photo credit: Getty

A coroner's inquest into a baby's death has proven she died after being breastfed by her mother, who had consumed 18 cans of bourbon and cola the night before, although her actual cause of death could not be determined.

The coroner's findings into the death of two-month-old Sapphire Rose Moengaroa Janice Williams were released on Friday. She was found by her mother unresponsive in bed on January 2, 2017.

Coroner Debra Bell says in her findings that on November 4, 2016, mother Janice Tua gave birth to twin girls - Sapphire and Honey. Both had low birth weights and related medical issues.

"Tua told police at the time of Sapphire's death that they were homeless and were waiting for Housing New Zealand to assign them a house."

The investigation into Sapphire's death found in the early hours of January 2, Sapphire woke up crying and while waiting for a bottle of formula to cool down, Tua gave her some breast milk.

After this Honey woke up crying, so Tua placed Sapphire on the bed and went to tend to her.

On her return that she noticed Sapphire's nose was bleeding and she was unresponsive.

Bell says father Joe Williams told police he noticed Sapphire was unresponsive. He immediately placed her on the floor and commenced CPR, but she could not be revived and died at the scene.

Police were satisfied there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, Bell says.

On January 3, 2017, forensic pathologist Simon Stables conducted a full post-mortem examination of Sapphire.

"The toxicology revealed a high level of alcohol from the heart with a lesser amount in the liver," Bell says.

The amount of alcohol found in Sapphire's blood from her heart was 300mg per 100ml of blood, the coroner says.

Father making baby formula in milk bottle for a newborn baby feed
Photo credit: Getty

Bell says given the readings were so high, the toxicologist conducted another to confirm the accuracy, but the readings were the same.

"For comparison purposes, the legal blood alcohol limit for a New Zealand driver 20 years old or over is 50mg per 100ml.

"Dr Stables in his post-mortem report comments that if this is a true result, which in his opinion it is, then the blood alcohol level in Sapphire would be sufficient to cause her death."

In a statement to police, Tua said she was "at a cousin's house and got on the piss... two days before [the] baby died", the coroner adds.

Bell says the mother drank about 18 pre-mixed bourbon and colas. Sapphire died the following night.

Cause of death not determined

Sapphire had a "very high" level of alcohol in her blood, Bell says, but her cause of death remained unascertained.

The coroner adds that a sudden death in infants liaison officer has been unsuccessful in meeting with Sapphire's parents.

"This is disappointing given the possible contributing conditions to Sapphire's cause of death."

Dr Stables referred to a number of other significant conditions which may have contributed to Sapphire's death, the coroner says, including a dangerous sleeping environment.

The mother also told police that she smoked regularly.

"Unfortunately, her [Sapphire's] mother chose to drink a large quantity of alcohol and subsequently, at a later stage chose to breastfeed her.

"Sapphire's mother's actions highlight what has been well-documented; alcohol can pass to a child via breast milk.

"Therefore, I stress the importance of breastfeeding mothers not to consume alcohol at any stage."