Coroner blasts 'confusing' advice given to parents on taking babies to bed with them after seven-week old boy dies while sleeping alongside his mother 

  • Efan James died in his mother Hannah's bed in October last year
  • 'Well cared-for and loved' baby was found 'face-down and unresponsive'
  • Coroner says advice should be changed to suggest never bed-sharing 
  • NHS says not to if parents smoke, drink, have taken drugs or are very tired 
  • Open verdict on Efan's death but pathologist said it was likely a cot death

The tragic death of a seven-week-old baby in his mother’s bed has led a coroner to demand new guidelines to warn parents of the dangers of sleeping next to newborns.

‘Well cared-for and loved’ Efan James was found lying face down and unresponsive the morning after Hannah James, 26, took him to bed.

At the baby’s inquest this week, a coroner in Pembrokeshire said new parents were given ‘confusing’ advice over how tired they could be when they slept in the same bed as their child.

Tragedy: Efan James, who was described as 'well cared-for and loved', was sharing a bed with his mother Hannah James (pictured together) when he died in his sleep last October

Tragedy: Efan James, who was described as 'well cared-for and loved', was sharing a bed with his mother Hannah James (pictured together) when he died in his sleep last October

Co-sleeping: Mrs James had taken her son to bed with her at the family home in Milford Haven, West Wales but the next morning he was 'lying face down and unresponsive', an inquest heard

Co-sleeping: Mrs James had taken her son to bed with her at the family home in Milford Haven, West Wales but the next morning he was 'lying face down and unresponsive', an inquest heard

The Welsh government’s ‘reducing the risk of cot death’ leaflet, which offers similar advice to the NHS in England, says parents should not share a bed with a young baby if they ‘feel very tired’, take drugs, smoke, or have drunk alcohol.

But coroner Mark Layton said: ‘The advice is that it is not wrong to share a bed with your baby – but you should refrain from doing so if you are “excessively tired”. This is very confusing. It is a fact of life that parents or carers of a young infant would be very tired because of the baby’s erratic sleep pattern.

‘It suggests that it’s okay to go to sleep with your baby if you are not very tired. But very few people will sleep unless they’re actually tired.’

The bedsharing guidance does stress that the safest place for a baby under six months to sleep is in their own cot in the same room as its parents. But new mothers sometimes struggle with this – especially if they are breastfeeding – because the easiest place to do this is in bed. Miss James had been to a party and had ‘a little to drink’ before she, her baby and a friend all shared the bed at the family home in Neyland, West Wales, in October last year. The next morning Efan was found ‘face down and unresponsive’.

Pembrokeshire Coroner Mark Layton said the current advice on 'co-sleeping' is 'confusing'

Pembrokeshire Coroner Mark Layton said the current advice on 'co-sleeping' is 'confusing'

Pembrokeshire Coroner’s Court heard how attempts were made to resuscitate Efan but he could not be saved. Tests later showed his brain had been starved of oxygen.Home Office pathologist Richard Jones told the inquest there was no specific cause of death but it was typical of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death or ‘cot death’.

He said: ‘The cause of death might be sudden unexplained death in infancy while bed sharing. Examination showed a suggestion that the brain had an inadequate supply of oxygenated blood shortly before Efan died.’ The coroner recorded an open conclusion and said the death could not be explained on pathological grounds, adding: ‘There is no doubt that he was well cared for and loved by his family. Sadly it is not uncommon for a baby to die with no obvious cause of death.’

The Welsh government said it will consider the coroner’s comments, but said its guidance was ‘very clear’ and was reviewed by experts last year.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Ruth Hussey said: ‘We will consider the coroner’s correspondence to us and respond appropriately in due course.’ A spokesman for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which issues health guidelines in England and Wales, said: ‘Sharing a bed with your baby at night can aid breastfeeding and in some cultures, co-sleeping is seen as perfectly normal. But the Department of Health advises that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot.’

OUR GUIDELINES ARE NOT CLEAR, ADMITS NICE BOSS

The clinical director of the NHS watchdog has admitted guidelines for preventing cot deaths are ‘confusing’.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published advice for England and Wales in December which told parents there was a strong link between co-sleeping and cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

But guidelines do not tell women they shouldn’t bring their babies into bed – even though it makes the risk of death five times higher.

The watchdog stopped short of telling women not to take babies to bed in case the advice interfered with breastfeeding guidelines. Professor Mark Baker, NICE clinical director, said: ‘It’s quite a confusing message, it is not clear. We’re not telling people not to co-sleep, we know that could get in the way with breastfeeding, but there is an association there with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.’

He added: ‘We are between a rock and hard place. The only recommendation we could have made would be to avoid co-sleeping, but it would be seen as incompatible with breastfeeding guidelines.’

There are currently around 300 cot deaths in the UK every year. However Professor Bob Carpenter, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has estimated that around 120 cot deaths could be prevented every year in the UK if parents were advised not to co-sleep.

Inquest: Mr Layton recorded an open conclusion and said Efan's death could not be explained on pathological grounds - but a pathologist said it was typical of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death or 'cot death'

Inquest: Mr Layton recorded an open conclusion and said Efan's death could not be explained on pathological grounds - but a pathologist said it was typical of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death or 'cot death'

 


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