Inquest begins into newborn's death

An inquest into the death of a two-day-old girl believed to have been asphyxiated during breastfeeding opened in Auckland today with Coroner Katherine Greig suppressing names of parties.

"This is a particularly sensitive case," she said, granting interim name suppression to the child, her parents and several witnesses.

The baby was born normally in Auckland City Hospital on January 31, 2011, and was transferred to Birthcare Auckland in Parnell.

Police Sergeant Heather Ruddell told the coroner that early in the morning of February 2 the child had been brought to her mother to breastfeed as she lay in bed. Two hours later a nurse moved the baby back into her cot but later in the morning was found to be dead.

Sergeant Ruddell said an autopsy found that a possible cause was accidental asphyxiation on the breast. Police ruled there were no suspicious circumstances.

The mother told the court she had an "uncomplicated and wonderful pregnancy".

The newborn was a "beautiful and healthy baby" and they were transferred to Birthcare.

The next day the mother walked in the sun with her baby at the nearby Auckland Domain.

"I treasure this precious time," she told the court.

Later she felt a chill and Birthcare staff told her it was normal as her milk began to flow.

She was given a blanket and a wheat bag.

At one point as the nurse cared for the mother, the baby woke.

"The nurse said (the baby) was looking after me," the mother said.

She recalled saying she thought it was meant to be the other way around.

At about 1.30am the nurse bought the baby to its mother to feed while she lay in bed.

The mother said she recalled seeing the nurse in the night coming to check and that at 3.30am the baby was put into the bassinet. 

The mother woke in the morning and showered, believing the baby was still sleeping.

However, she had died.

The mother told the court she did not blame anybody for the death.

"I felt I was under the best care I could get."

In response to the coroner, she said she felt educated about the issues of safe sleeping and whether to sleep with a baby in bed.

A nurse with 40 years experience cared for the mother and baby during the night, and she believed the child was still alive when she transferred her.

"Dead babies feel a lot heavier than live babies."

The nurse said nothing about mother and baby caused any concern.

She said when she put the baby onto the breast, she also explained to the mother how to position herself for safety.

She said the mother was very conscientious and she did not believe she went to sleep with the baby.

The nurse said they were conscious of safe sleeping practices and she had completed an online refresher course two days before the death. But she said there were often practices that put mother and baby close together in bed.

It was necessary at times to lift a baby's temperature, she said.

In the period following birth, a mother was tired and could feel pressured.

"We honestly don't feel like talking about the risks... It's a hard call. How do you handle this?"

Several expert witnesses on "safe sleep" are due to be called as the hearing continues.

Auckland Now