Breastfeeding Not to Blame for Recent Infant Death, Urge Experts
Co-Sleeping -- Not Breastfeeding -- May Be At Fault, Experts Say
By COURTNEY HUTCHISON
ABC News Medical Unit
Dec. 2, 2009
A mother may have accidentally smothered her child when she fell asleep while nursing on board a transatlantic flight last Tuesday, according to reports in the British media.
United Airlines declined to confirm to ABCNews.com that an infant had died aboard one of their flights, but did say that flight 982 from Washington, D.C., to Kuwait last Tuesday, Nov. 24, was diverted to London Heathrow Airport due to an "ill passenger."
But according to U.K. press reports, the unscheduled landing occurred after an Egyptian woman dozed off while nursing her 4-week-old infant and woke to find her child was pale and not breathing.
While this rare scenario, if true, could alarm many mothers, pediatric experts caution that breastfeeding is safe -- and the episode should not discourage its practice.
"This has nothing to do with breastfeeding," says Heather Kay, a lactation consultant in Princeton, N.J. She says it's not the breastfeeding, but rather, the act of falling asleep while holding an infant that can lead to accendental death.
"If she had been holding the child and she fell asleep, she could have smothered it as well [and] making it sound like [breastfeeding] is the reason the baby died...is a really uncomfortable idea," Kay says.
Though an on-board doctor attempted to resuscitate the child and the plane diverted to London's Heathrow Airport so that the child could be rushed to nearby Hillingdon Hospital, the child was pronounced dead upon arrival according to reports in the British newspaper The Sun.
United Airlines declined to identify the woman due to privacy laws.
Breastfeeding Not to Blame, Experts Say
Though it is very rare, this would not be the first time that sleep-nursing has resulted in accidental death.
In 2006, British mother Lisa Briggs told the U.K. press that she accidentally smothered her child after falling asleep while nursing and said she had previously lost an infant under similar circumstances.
"Breastfeeding doesn't smother babies," says Dr. Ruth Lawrence, past president and founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. "I don't know a mother who hasn't fallen asleep while feeding her child, whether nursing or bottle-feeding," Lawrence adds.
Instead, Lawrence feels there must have other extenuating circumstances responsible for the death because "under normal circumstances, babies do not get smothered [while breastfeeding]."