To lose a child is by far the worst pain a parent can ever experience – the intense sadness, the crippling sense of loss, the feeling that something will always be missing.
For Craig Heatley, this pain became a reality not once, but twice — after experiencing stillbirth with his daughter and SUDI (sudden unexplained death in infancy) with his son.
He shares his story with us in the hope it will help raise awareness of SIDS and ensure all parents take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of experiencing this heartbreak.
“She was gone. And there was nothing they could do.”
With their first child due in just five weeks, Craig and his wife, Lara were on top of the world. They had decided on a name – Charlotte – and were busy preparing for the massive changes that come with a newborn.
“Charlotte’s nursery had been set up, her jumpsuits and clothes put neatly in her drawers ready to be worn, and her toys placed on the shelves ready to be endlessly played with,” — Craig tells Mum Central.
During the 35-week check-up, something didn’t seem right and after a number of doctors examined Lara, the excited parents were hit with the 10 words no parent wants to ever hear: “Your baby’s heart is no longer beating. She is gone.” There was nothing they could do.
In an instant, we had gone from excitement and anticipation to heartbreak and despair. Lara was induced and gave birth to our beautiful daughter Charlotte – she was perfect, but stillborn.
“She wasn’t coming home with us.”
Instead of announcing Charlotte’s impending arrival, the devastated parents had to announce their tragic loss. There were no newborn snuggles, or cards of congratulations, no night-time feeds or late-night trips to the shops to grab supplies. They spent the (what should have been blissful) first few weeks packing up the nursery, folding away never-worn clothes and dismantling a never-used cot.
Only weeks ago, I had set the cot up, and imagined putting her to bed and kissing her goodnight. Now I was in her room, weighed down with the unimaginable grief, and left with empty arms.”
But, through the sadness came light. Lara was pregnant again, this time with twins. As expected, the couple was anxious throughout the pregnancy, wondering whether they would lose their babies before they were born, and relive the pain all over again.
Twins after tragedy
Lara delivered her twins – a son Cameron and daughter, Addison – and they began a new chapter in their lives. They enjoyed the joyous commotion that comes with raising twins.
For 22 months they were blessed. Until, one morning in December, the couple found toddler Cameron in his cot, unresponsive and not breathing. He passed away from what they later learned was a suspected febrile convulsion (a fit or seizure caused by a sudden change in your child’s body temperature), just two months shy of his second birthday.
Once again the couple was hit with the unimaginable pain of losing a child and once again they were left with the same questions – questions that have no answers. Why did my baby die? Was it something I did? Was it something I didn’t do? Why us?
To lose one child is every parent’s worst nightmare. To lose two children in under three years, is beyond nightmarish. But one of the hardest parts was not knowing why it had happened.”
The Scary Facts Surrounding SUDI and SIDS
Craig’s story is heartbreaking, to say the least. But, unfortunately, it is not uncommon.
For every 300,000 babies born in Australia each year, nearly 3,000 do not survive to their first birthday. Some are stillborn (an infant that has died in the womb) some die of SUDI (sudden unexpected death in infancy, including SIDS).
That’s 3,000 hearts that stop too soon, 3,000 babies who don’t get a chance to grow up, who never get to blow out a birthday candle or go to the park, who never get to experience the thrill of sliding down a slippery dip or opening presents on Christmas morning.
3,000 babies who won’t ever toddle off to their first day of preschool, or win a trophy at the end of a soccer season, or have their first crush, or learn to drive their first car.
And 3,000 parents, like Craig and Lara, who miss out on watching these moments. 3,000 parents who don’t get to hear “I love you,”, who don’t have a phone full of funny pictures, who are left planning a funeral rather than bringing home a baby.
SIDS by Numbers
- Every four hours, a baby in Australia is born stillborn
- 2,107 babies are stillborn each year
- 742 babies die before they turn one month old
- 87 babies die from SUDI and fatal sleeping accidents
For every parent who has lost a child, one question always circles back – WHY?
But this is the thing about SIDS – often there is no set reason. While the cause of SIDS has not yet been discovered, some common factors that contribute to an increased risk of SIDS have been identified.
Reducing the Risk of SIDS and SUDI
As parents, the most important thing we can do is keep our child’s sleeping environment safe. Below are a few safe sleep guidelines for parents to follow when planning the nursery and putting your baby to bed.
General Safe Sleep Guidelines
- Sleep baby in your room (in own cot or bassinet) for 6 to 12 months. Room sharing reduces the risk of SIDS. Baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you, or with anyone else, including siblings or pets.
- Make sure bub has plenty of tummy time when awake. This will help strengthen your baby’s neck, shoulder, and arm muscles.
- Vaccinate. Vaccines not only protect the baby’s health, but research shows that vaccinated babies are at lower risk for SIDS.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby.
- Breastfeed if you are able to. Babies who breastfeed, or are fed breastmilk, are at lower risk for SIDS than are babies who were never fed breastmilk. Longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding leads to lower risk.
Safe Sleep in the Cot
Australian cot standards and safety
Make sure the cot meets the current Australian Standards. All cots sold in shops will meet these standards but if you are buying second hand, do a quick Google search of the name and model before buying. Use a firm, clean and flat mattress. Make sure it’s the right size for the cot.
Sleep babies on their back and keep their head and face uncovered. Place their feet at the bottom of the cot. Avoid sleep positioners/positional devices as they can be dangerous and also impede the baby’s natural development.
We recommend a baby monitor to check in periodically and ensure your baby is sleeping safely.
We recommend the VTech BM4500-OWL Pan & Tilt Video Baby Monitor ($289) which is also recommended by the Red Nose Foundation. It comes with plenty of safe sleeping features including temperature sensor, auto night vision, and full-motion video. Plus, it has a handy talk-back intercom, a high resolution 4.3″ colour LCD and polyphonic lullabies to help lull baby to sleep.
While it might seem nice to have gorgeous frilly bumpers, soft toys and pretties in our children’s cots, their purpose is to sleep your little one safely, without risk of harm.
Avoid ALL risks by keeping these items away from the cot:
- Pillows, quilts, and doonas (it’s safer to wait until a child starts to sleep in a bed before introducing a pillow or other soft bedding)
- Cot bumpers, lambswool and blankets
- Soft toys (not recommended under seven months of age). If used after seven months, allow one small soft toy, not many!
- Dummy chains (risk of wrapping around the neck or another body part such as arm/leg or if a beaded one, risk of it breaking and the beads becoming loose)
- Tilted/elevated mattress or cot (baby can slip down the mattress)
- Hanging cords/string (e.g. from blinds/curtains), cords (e.g. from electrical devices/lamps) and hanging netting (once baby is able to reach up)
- Decorative mobiles (once baby is able to reach up)
Safe Sleep in a Bassinet and Pram
If you’re using a bassinet, here are a few more sleep safety tips to factor in:
- Place bassinet on a stable surface and ensure that it has a wide stable base
- Use the size and style that suits your baby’s weight and age (see manufacturer’s instructions)
- Remove all ribbons and ties to reduce the risk of strangulation
- Check that all sides are at least 300mm high measured from the top of the mattress base and preferably made of air-permeable material such as mesh (or breathable zones)
- The mattress should be firm, clean and well-fitting. It should not be thicker than 75mm and should lie flat (not tilted or elevated).
- Folding legs should lock, to ensure they won’t collapse when used.
- Baby should sleep on their back with face uncovered. Remove pillows, soft toys, lambswools/sheepskins and other soft items.
Use bassinets for a short period only. Once baby becomes active and starts to roll, it is best to place baby into a safe cot.
This is also the case for pram sleep. While letting your little one drift off to sleep in a pram isn’t a problem, it’s not a good idea to get in the habit of letting baby sleep overnight in the pram. Some prams are safe for the occasional overnight sleep, but all babies will need a cot or bassinet.
According to SIDS and Kids, “pram standards state that a pram should not be used as a permanent sleeping environment for a baby and that a baby should not be left to sleep unsupervised in a pram.”
Red Nose Day — Saving Little Lives
Our children are our world so it’s only natural to be concerned about safe sleep, especially after reading stories like Craig and Lara’s.
Keeping yourself up to date with the latest sleep safety practices is the best way to reduce the risk and ensure a better, safer night’s sleep for your baby. You may also be interested in supporting Red Nose, especially on August 9th, Red Nose Day.
At Red Nose, the mission is clear – to reduce the number of children taken too soon and to support those who have experienced a loss. Every child deserves a chance to grow up and every parent deserves the opportunity to watch this happen.
Red Nose has saved over 10,000 babies with an 85% reduction in infant deaths since 1989. But there’s still so much more to do. Their goals include reducing stillbirth by 20% over the next three years, reducing SUDI by 15% and ensuring every person affected by the death of a child receives the right support.
To learn more about SIDS or support Red Nose Day, please visit the Red Nose Day website.