Nappy Sacks Campaign

Choking and suffocation risk to babies from nappy sacks

RoSPA is aware of at least 16 baby deaths in England and Wales due to nappy sacks - thin plastic bags used to dispose of soiled nappies. Children can easily suffocate or choke on this item if it is left in their reach as they naturally grasp anything and put it in their mouths, but they find it more difficult to let go.

Our tips

  • Always keep nappy sacks and other plastic bags or wrapping away from babies and young children
  • Never place nappy sacks in a baby's cot, pram or buggy
  • Buy nappy sacks on a roll if possible

Background

Nappy sacks have been implicated in causing suffocation and choking of babies less than one year old. In September 2010, the death of a local baby due to asphyxia from a nappy sack was brought to the attention of Beth Beynon, Child Accident Prevention Co-ordinator for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (NHS CIOS) via the local Safeguarding Children Board.

NHS CIOS immediately set about gathering information to develop an understanding of the circumstances and identify whether similar deaths had occurred elsewhere. This exercise highlighted that asphyxia from nappy sacks had caused up to 10 known deaths in babies across England and Wales alone. However, none of these cases had come to the attention of the national accident prevention bodies, nor had they been logged on the national Trading Standards database. Each area had assumed their incidents were one-off, isolated cases.

Why is this happening?

The typical scenario associated with the deaths is that the sacks are stored within the baby's reach, close to the baby's cot - including under the mattress usually for convenience. In some of the cases, the nappy sacks had been left near to or in the cot for ease of changing the baby's nappy in the night. The light flimsy plastic material of the bag is easy for a baby to grasp automatically, and then instinctively bring to their mouths for exploration, which can lead to obstruction of the nose and mouth, and even inhalation.

Informal feedback from parents and carers and professionals demonstrated that the risk to young babies is compounded by the fact that widespread usage of nappy sacks is a relatively recent phenomenon. Parents and carers are generally aware of the dangers posed by plastic bags, but do not make the same link to nappy sacks and so are less likely to take the same safety precautions. The risk of this potential hazard is increased by the lack of mandatory suffocation warning advice on the packaging, and the product's frequent availability as loose bags in a packet, as opposed to supplied on a roll.

Case Study – Beth Amison

Baby Maison

Mum-of-two Beth Amison is supporting RoSPA’s nappy sack campaign following the death of her seven-month-old son Maison in 2013.

Beth, aged 23, from Staffordshire, said: “I don’t want other parents to suffer the same devastating tragedy that my family went through.

“My world fell apart because of a nappy sack. It was on March 7th 2013 that I went into my seven-month-old baby son Maison’s bedroom to wake him up - only it wasn't his beautiful smile I was greeted with. Instead Maison was lying in his cot with a handful of nappy sacks scattered around him and one was covering his face.

Beth Amison with Babt Maison

“Our changing stand had been placed next to the cot, as many people’s are, and in the pockets of the stand, I had placed nappy sacks months and months before. The cot was on the highest setting because Maison had never crawled. He could sit, but only if you placed him that way. However, that day he must have learned to stand for the first time as that’s the only way he could have reached the changing stand.

“Since Maison died, I share the dangers of nappy sacks to other parents through my Facebook page called Maisons Memory. It’s important for anyone looking after babies to be aware of the risks nappy sacks pose and what they can do to prevent more unnecessary deaths. Never think it won’t happen to me.”

Resources

  • A5 Nappy Sack leaflet - Highlights that fact that making simple changes can make a big difference to your child's safety.
  • Height Chart - Highlights the most common home accidents involving under-fives, including falls, burns and scalds and poisoning, and gives prevention tips.

This issue is also being raised at a European level.

More information

If you have a personal story you would like to share as part of our campaigning work, please contact us on: +44 (0)121 248 2107 or by email at: publichealth@rospa.com


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