Baby suffocated to death by pillow after sleeping beside father

Wan Ting Koh
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SINGAPORE — A 19-day-old baby suffocated after a pillow unwittingly ended up over his head as he slept beside his father on the master bed.

In findings dated 25 October, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam ruled the case as another unfortunate misadventure which highlights the risk of accidental suffocation arising from parents who sleep with their babies.

Before the tragedy happened, the baby’s mother would usually sleep on the sofa in the living room with the baby, while the father would sleep in the master bedroom with an elder child placed in a baby cot.

First time baby placed beside sleeping parent

On 9 June last year, the baby boy was placed beside his sleeping father on the bed in the master bedroom at about 7am. It was the first time that the baby was placed beside a sleeping parent.

Her mother did not want to leave him alone as he had just been fed and was prone to vomiting his milk. She placed him on the bed on his back and told her husband that the baby was next to him. However the baby’s father later told the coroner’s court that he was too tired and was not aware of the alert.

The mother later went to bathe her other child. When she returned at 8.45am, she saw a pillow covering the upper half of the baby’s body and that he was pale.

She woke the father before he realised the baby was not breathing. The father began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and called an ambulance.

Despite a brief period of perceptible pulse, the baby later died at around 2.26am on 10 June.

His death was attributed to suffocation due to the blocking of the nose and mouth. There was no evidence of traumatic injuries or indication of non-accidental trauma, according to an autopsy report.

KK Hospital to conduct classes on infant care

A quality service manager from KK Women's and Children's Hospital said that it would conduct classes to teach new mothers on the proper care for infants. Parents are also taught that bolsters, pillows, blankets and plastics bags ought to be kept away from the child to avoid unintentional suffocation. They are also advised not to sleep with the child on the same bed, and have the baby sleep in a cot instead.

Said SC Ponnampalam, “This case is yet another unfortunate illustration of the increased risk of inadvertent suffocation resulting from co-sleeping with one's infant for however brief a time. Parents need to be vigilant and observe safe sleeping habits at all times.”

In early October, the SC recorded an open verdict for a baby who possibly died from suffocation while being breastfed by his mother, who fell asleep during the process.

In another case, a baby girl died from suffocation after she was trapped in a gap between her mattress and bed frame.

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Baby girl suffocated after being trapped in gap between mattress and bed frame: State Coroner

Baby's death after mother fell asleep while breastfeeding recorded as open verdict