Title: Sleeping parents
suffocate babies; Midland expert warns of bed-sharing danger.
Date: 11/13/1998; Publication: The Birmingham Post (England);
One of the country's leading child pathologists told a Birmingham conference that more than half of cot death victims were accidentally suffocated as they slept with their parents.
Dr Ian Rushton, the senior paediatric pathologist in Birmingham, said more than 50 per cent of the city's cot deaths now involved babies sleeping in the same bed as their parents.
He said many might have been suffocated accidentally by their parents rolling on to them - a process known as "overlaying".
"One wonders how many of these babies are actual cot deaths and how many are examples of overlaying," he told the conference organised by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.
Dr Rushton, based at Birmingham Women's Hospital, warned that parents who lost babies to cot death also faced a growing "index of suspicion" because of an increase in the number of infant killings detected following the Louise Woodward and Beverley Allit t cases. He said these now accounted for five per cent of all infant deaths.
He said the extent of bed-sharing had become apparent because of the large drop in the number of cot deaths in the 1990s, following the issuing of advice to parents not to sleep babies on their fronts. Last year, 404 infants died from unknown causes comp ared with 1,597 in 1988.
Later, Dr Rushton said he felt his comments had been well received by the conference attended mainly by health specialists and a few parents.
He said: "I don't think they were expecting me to say what I said. My impression was that they found it useful. It's all very well dwelling on cot deaths but you need to take it in context."
But Mrs Ann Deri-Bowen, national co-ordinator of the FSID, said the overlaying theory was far from proved.
She said: "It is getting very hard for parents now because they know the police have to come in and be suspicious about what may have happened. On the whole, there is understanding of this.
"The evidence on bed-sharing is mixed but we would advise that babies sleep in a cot in the parents' room, not in the bed."
She said the FSID was financing research using video cameras trained on sleeping families. Earlier this year the researchers said their studies showed babies were not at risk from bed-sharing. Mrs Deri-Bowen urged parents who needed help to call the FSID 24-hour number on 0171 235 17210171 235 1721.
Bereaved parent Ms Karen Stait, of Olton, Solihull, said whatever the circumstances of the death, parents needed good support.
She said: "It is very disturbing for parents who are newly bereaved, the idea that you are under suspicion until proved innocent. It is especially difficult if there is an inquest involved.
"Twenty years ago when I lost my first child, Victoria, at three months, there was nothing available in the way of support. With good positive support you can handle things."
COPYRIGHT 1998 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
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