Heartbroken parents make emotional plea for people to heed dangers of co-sleeping

Baby Declan Hugh Anthony Butler-O'Hanlon passed away on December 4 2017. An inquest ruled that his cause of death was sudden and unexpected death in infancy and co-sleeping.
Baby Declan Hugh Anthony Butler-O'Hanlon passed away on December 4 2017. An inquest ruled that his cause of death was sudden and unexpected death in infancy and co-sleeping.

More needs to be done in Northern Ireland to raise awareness about the dangers of co-sleeping, an inquest into the death of a two-month-old baby heard.

The child’s devastated mother gave evidence at the Coroner’s Court hearing in Belfast yesterday in the hope that her heartbreaking story will help others avoid a similar tragic loss.

Glengormley woman Jolene O’Hanlon’s baby son Declan Hugh Anthony Butler-O’Hanlon passed away on December 4, 2017.

The inquest heard how he had been suffering from a cold, but was otherwise a normal, healthy baby.

After feeding her son and putting him to bed, Miss O’Hanlon noticed that his hands were cold and a “blueish colour”.

Thinking she needed to keep him warm, she took Declan out of his Moses basket and brought him into the double bed she was sharing with her 18-month-old daughter, separating the two children using a cushion. She awoke the next morning and found her son’s lifeless body.

The court heard how Miss O’Hanlon made desperate attempts to resuscitate her child. But despite her efforts, and those of an ambulance crew, he was pronounced dead on arrival at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

After considering evidence from Miss O’Hanlon, three medical experts and a PSNI officer, coroner Patrick McGurgan ruled that baby Declan’s cause of death was “sudden and unexpected death in infancy and co-sleeping”.

He described the case as “a very tragic story” and noted the fact the heating had been left on in the house during the night in question in a bid to dry children’s school uniforms was another risk factor.

Mr McGurgan said he had no doubt Miss O’Hanlon had been trying to do what she thought was best for her son and said she bore absolutely no blame for what happened.

He paid tribute to Miss O’Hanlon and Declan’s father Hugh Butler for their bravery in attending the inquest and sharing their story in a bid to help others.

The coroner revealed that he has two more similar inquests to conduct next week and hopes such cases will raise awareness of the subject to the point where it becomes “a topic of conversation in homes up and down the country”. He said it is “absolutely imperative” the public hear about the dangers of co-sleeping.

“It is something we have all done and a lot of people will continue to do, but we need to highlight the risks,” he said.

Miss O’Hanlon, who turned to the Scottish Cot Death Trust for support after her tragic loss, has been trying to use her heartbreaking experience to spread the message about the dangers of co-sleeping.

Speaking after the hearing, the 32-year-old, who has five other children, said: “There are not enough people listening. People really do not think this is going to come to their door, same as myself. I didn’t expect it. We need to get the message out and people need to listen.”

Mr Butler added: “People just don’t know until it comes to their door. They think it’s never going to happen to them. So many people do it, but people need to listen. We need to get the message out there.”

One of those who gave evidence to the inquest, Dr Brigitte Bartholome, lead children’s consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said there are around 25 sudden unexplained infant deaths each year in Northern Ireland.

After seeing three such deaths in one week in December 2018, including two in one day, she insisted that more needs to be done to make parents and other carers aware of risk factors, including the dangers of co-sleeping.

• March 11 - 17 marks Safer Sleep Week – an awareness campaign run by UK charity The Lullaby Trust.

For more information log on to www.lullabytrust.org.uk

Further details of how bed-sharing increases the risk of sudden infant death are also available at www.nhs.uk