Midwives under fire after newborn baby choked to death when his 'dog tired' mother fell asleep while breastfeeding

Staff taught feeding technique that was against national advice and leaving tired mum alone was ‘extraordinary’, says coroner

Jane Dalton
Sunday 19 August 2018 14:40 BST
Midwives at Royal Bolton Hospital told the mother to lay the baby down alongside her then left her alone
Midwives at Royal Bolton Hospital told the mother to lay the baby down alongside her then left her alone

A coroner has criticised hospital midwives after a newborn baby died when his “dog tired” mother fell asleep as she was breastfeeding him.

Louie Bradley choked to death after his mother, Ann, had been taught a feeding technique that went against national advice, an inquest heard.

Bolton assistant coroner John Pollard said it was “extraordinary” that the new mother was left alone in bed with her baby when she was “dog tired” after a long labour.

Ms Bradley said midwives at the Royal Bolton Hospital, Greater Manchester, told her she could feed her day-old baby by laying him down on the bed next to her because she had been struggling to breastfeed.

The staff had told her to put her son on her bare skin when he was cold and to lie side by side in bed with him, she said.

The first-time mother fell asleep but awoke in the early hours to find her son “white and floppy” in her arms, Bolton coroner’s court heard.

Doctors could not revive the baby, who died because of a mix of factors including an accidental obstruction of the airways, the hearing was told.

Mr Pollard said the technique to help mothers struggling to breastfeed went against national advice to avoid “co-sleeping” because mothers are likely to be very tired after giving birth and at risk of falling asleep.

He has written to hospital bosses raising concerns about the advice from midwives and healthcare assistants, as well as the absence of some details from records.

Ms Bradley, a teacher from Harwood, Lancashire, told the inquest she was never told not to lie in bed while feeding so took him to her bed with her when he became unsettled, fed him for a minute or two and sang to him.

A pathologist found that Louie had undiagnosed bronchopneumonia and symptoms of a common cold.

Jane Westhead, the midwife who taught Ms Bradley to lie on her side to feed, said bed-sharing was discouraged and bed safety awareness was discussed.

She said: “We make them aware of the dangers. I don’t know if there’s an actual policy, but that’s what we do.”

The coroner also expressed concern that breastfeeding in bed would sometimes happen with the curtains drawn around the bed, at a mother’s request, which meant problems could not be noticed quickly.

Val Clare, head of midwifery at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said after the inquest: “It is such a tragedy when the unexpected death of a baby takes place. This was a very rare event and we feel for Louie’s family.

“We are a level-three Unicef baby friendly initiative-accredited unit, which is the highest standard for breastfeeding and is a prestigious award.” The trust would review the guidance given out, she said.

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