Forgotten Baby Syndrome: A parent's nightmare of hot car death

06 Oct 2023 05:32pm
Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF
Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - This is every parent's nightmare: the death of their child due to absent-mindedness.

Every now and then, there will be reports of children dying, either due to heat stroke or hyperthermia, after being left for hours inside a car alone.

In most cases, the explanation provided is that the carer simply forgot to bring them out.

However, little did we know there was a medical term for this occurrence, which is called 'Forgotten Baby Syndrome'.

Although there has been no official data, there has been a rise in cases globally following the popularisation of airbags and rear-facing child safety seats.

What is Forgotten Baby Syndrome?

Forgotten Baby Syndrome is the term used to describe a situation in which parents inadvertently leave their baby or young child in a locked car, often resulting in tragic consequences.

It is a medical explanation that helps us understand how a parent can walk away from the car without remembering their child in the backseat.

Related Articles:

This syndrome typically occurs when parents are preoccupied with future tasks rather than focusing on the present moment, which can be extremely dangerous, especially if the baby is quiet or sleeping.

There is no specific profile that characterises parents who experience Forgotten Baby Syndrome.

It can affect parents from various backgrounds, including different races, genders, income levels, education, and personality types.

Forgetting a child in the car is most likely to happen when there is a disruption in the parent's usual routine or when they are multitasking absentmindedly while the child is in the car.

In many instances of the syndrome, parents who don't typically take their child to daycare or a babysitter follow the same daily route to and from work.

During these routines, parents may drive on autopilot, relying on motor memory to perform tasks.

This frees up mental space for them to focus on future tasks, inadvertently leading to them forgetting about a quiet baby or small child in the backseat. This forgetfulness is driven by being mentally disengaged from the present moment and concentrating on what lies ahead.

While 56 per cent of hot car deaths occur when well-intentioned parents inadvertently leave their children in the car, there are other scenarios in which a child can tragically lose their life in a vehicle.

In 28 per cent of cases, children gain unauthorised access to a vehicle without their parent's knowledge. To prevent such incidents, it's crucial to keep car keys out of reach to ensure a child cannot get inside the car unnoticed.

Simple steps to avoid Forgotten Baby Syndrome

In efforts to prevent the heartbreaking incidents associated with Forgotten Baby Syndrome, parents are encouraged to adopt several simple yet effective practices.

  1. Keeping a plush toy in the car serves as a visual cue; when securing the child in their car seat, placing the plush toy in the front passenger's seat reinforces the presence of the child in the vehicle.
  2. Before leaving the vehicle, it is advised to conduct a comprehensive check of both the front and rear seats, potentially averting cases of heatstroke.
  3. Besides, developing the habit of opening the back door each time the car is parked allows for visual confirmation of the child's presence in the back seat.
  4. Additionally, positioning the diaper bag on the front passenger's seat serves as a constant reminder of the baby's presence in the rear. When possible, placing the car seat in the middle of the rear seat aids in maintaining a visual check on the child.
  5. Moreover, particularly during deviations from the daily routine, heightened vigilance is crucial to ensuring the child's safety while driving repetitive routes to avoid distractions.
  6. Childcare providers should be equipped with both the parent's cell phone and work numbers, with a request to call if the child has not been dropped off.
  7. Minimising phone calls while driving is imperative to avoid distractions, as many Forgotten Baby Syndrome cases involve carers whose attention is diverted by phone calls or text messages.
  8. Above all, self-accountability remains the most effective way to prevent unintentionally leaving a child in the car, with regular interactions with the child serving as a top priority for carers.

Below are some of past cases of children being left alone inside car in the country;

Kuala Lumpur - October 5, 2023

A recent heartbreaking incident occurred where an eight-month-old baby girl tragically lost her life. She had been left inside a car for over ten hours in the parking lot of a hospital.

The mother, who worked as a doctor at the hospital, had placed her child in the back seat of the car with the intention of taking her to a daycare centre. However, the mother mistakenly drove to her workplace, assuming that the child had already been dropped off at the daycare.

The realisation only dawned when her husband informed her later that evening that the child had not been taken to the daycare.

Sungai Petani - March 17, 2021

In another heartbreaking incident, a three-year-old and 11-month-old boy met a tragic fate after being unintentionally left inside a car for over four hours in front of a kindergarten in Taman Ria, Sungai Petani.

The young boy, who resided near the kindergarten, had been picked up by the principal earlier in the morning to attend kindergarten. Unfortunately, he was left sitting in the back seat of the car. Upon discovery, the principal immediately contacted an ambulance and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Despite their efforts, the child remained unresponsive.

The child was urgently transported to the hospital, where he was regrettably pronounced dead.

Kuantan - February 17, 2020

Another incident occurred in Kuantan where a nine-month-old girl named Annur Jannatul Syuhada Mohd Khalil lost her life to heatstroke after being left unattended in the backseat of a multipurpose vehicle for approximately four hours. The tragedy unfolded at the Tun Abdul Razak complex in Indera Mahkota around 1pm.

The infant was discovered unconscious in her child seat, leading to immediate efforts to rescue her. She was swiftly transported to the Indera Mahkota health clinic; however, despite the medical team's best efforts, she was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Lahad Datu - June 14, 2019

A devastating incident occurred in Lahad Datu on June 14, 2019, when a two-year-old girl was discovered unconscious in the backseat of a car, displaying scald marks and foaming at the mouth. The toddler had been left unattended in the vehicle for three hours at Taman Aman.

Prompt action was taken to remove the child from the car, and she was rushed to the Lahad Datu hospital. Despite the medical team's efforts, she was declared dead. Post-mortem examination results revealed scald marks on her left face and arm, attributing them to the extreme heat inside the vehicle, with the marks appearing after her tragic passing.

Port Dickson - March 14, 2018

Tragedy struck Port Dickson in March 2018 when a two-year-old girl perished after being inadvertently left in her mother's car for a prolonged period at a college car park. The mother had parked her Proton Saga and forgotten about her child.

Panicked and in distress, the mother urgently rushed her daughter to the Klinik Kesihatan Port Dickson. Regrettably, medical personnel were unable to save the young girl, and she was pronounced dead.

More Like This