Parents have been warned of the fatal dangers of co-sleeping at the inquest of a baby found dead in her mother’s arms.
Paramedics desperately tried to revive Kacy-Leigh O’Halloran, who was found lifeless lying upright in her mother’s arms as they slept on a sofa in their north Belfast flat.
At an inquest in Belfast on Tuesday, Coroner Jim Kitson ruled that the cause of the infant’s death was unexplained.
The death of the five-week-old girl — who was well cared for during her short life — was a tragedy, he said.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Dr Claire Thornton, a consultant paediatric pathologist, said the possibility the baby died as a result of sleeping with her parents could not be ruled out.
She told the inquest: “The possibility that this baby died because of overlaying or overheating cannot be ruled out.
“There are... recognised factors for sudden death in infants and there were many factors present in this case.
“Co-sleeping is known to be a risk in babies’ deaths. It’s particularly so when co-sleeping takes place on a sofa.”
The dangers of co-sleeping on a sofa are not known widely enough here, she told the inquest.
“It increases the risk of death by 10 times and... if it’s on the sofa, by 50 times. Co-sleeping on a sofa and smoking increases the risk by 58 times.”
Asked if there was anything to suggest that the infant had been overlaid — when a baby is smothered accidentally by someone lying on it during sleep — she added: “We cannot confirm or refute it. It’s impossible to tell whether overlaying occurred.”
The inquest heard that Kacy-Leigh had suffered problems with her breathing since she was born four weeks early in April last year. An infection in her mouth, which had spread to her throat, caused difficulties with her feeding — leading to an admission to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children weeks before her death. She was discharged when nothing untoward was found.
On May 10, 2012, the baby was sleeping in a moses basket beside her parents in the living room of their flat in Belfast’s New Lodge. Her mother, Naomi Goodall (20), rose to feed her shortly before 6.30am.
Naomi said she and her partner, Anthony O’Halloran, had been sleeping on a sofa in their living room — with their baby in a basket nearby — because their bedroom was too cold.
She fell asleep on the sofa with her daughter resting upright in the crook of her arm.
“One of us would always be awake; I was so scared of cot death,” she told the inquest.
“(But) I just dosed off.”
When the couple woke nearly three hours later, their baby was pale and lifeless. They immediately started to try resuscitating her.
Paramedics worked on the baby as she was rushed to hospital.
However, medics were unable to save her.
Presenting his findings, Coroner Jim Kitson said: “On post-mortem, no pathological cause of death could be ascertained — and while co-sleeping could not be excluded as a factor, Kacy-Leigh's death will be recorded as sudden unexplained death in infancy.”
Mr Kitson added: “This is not to be critical of you Naomi, but... the public needs to be aware that there are risk factors such as smoking, co-sleeping and co-sleeping on a chair.”
After the inquest, Dr Claire Thornton revealed that co-sleeping is a factor in at least two-thirds of the unascertained infant deaths that she handles here every year.