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New Mom Smothers Baby After Falling Asleep While Breastfeeding, Sues Hospital

By Danielle Sullivan |

Breastfeeding, new mom, rooming in, pregnancy, labor and delivery

Is your newborn baby safer rooming-in or staying in the nursery that first night?

After a full day of labor and delivery, new mom Zelia Blomfield was exhausted. She had just given birth to her baby daughter, Bela Maddison Lee Heidrich and kept the baby in the hospital bed while she began to breastfeed. She fell asleep and when she woke up just an hour later, her daughter had been smothered.

Blomfield is now filing charges against the hospital and claims that her midwife helped position her newborn baby at her breast. She also says the midwife told her it was OK for her to fall asleep. Blomfield believes it was the hospital staff’s responsibility to check in on her to keep the baby safe.

Blomfield maintains that the hospital was negligent and she has suffered post traumatic stress disorder since the death of her daughter.

The topic of rooming in with your baby has been a subject of debate. No hospital forces a mother to keep the baby in the room with her (as far as I know), and many women love the idea of being able to watch their newborn all night long as opposed to handing the baby over to the nursery staff. They don’t want their baby to spend his or her first night in a room filled with other babies where they might not get as much attention as if they stayed in the room with mom. On the other hand, some moms choose to not have their newborn stay, and ask the staff to take the baby to the nursery at night.

When my daughter Kate was born, I was thrilled to have her room in with me. I loved the idea of being able to stay with her all night. Unlike my first daughter Amanda, who was a calm baby and slept most of all of the time when she was just born, Kate was antsy. She squirmed and cried every few minutes. After my husband went home to take care of Amanda, I kept Kate in the room with me. She woke up about every twenty minutes and after a strenuous day of labor, visiting relatives, and pure exhaustion, I was so tired, I could barely stay awake. I picked her up from the mock crib next to my hospital bed and laid her down next to me. In just a few seconds, I must have dozed off and I jumped up and realized I fell asleep which scared me because although my arms were around my daughter, she could have easily fallen off the bed.

A couple of years later when my son was born, I kept him in the room with me until my husband went home and then asked him to bring my son to the nursery on his way out. I knew I was way too exhausted to be able to care for him during the night. I also knew that would be my only night to sleep. The next day I would be on my way home.

I’m on the fence about rooming in and every mother’s situation is different. Some mothers have complications and are still on medication the first night after delivery. Some moms are allowed to have their husbands stay in the hospital room with them and they can help with overnight baby care. It’s a very individual choice.

My heart goes out to Blomfield. No matter where the blame falls, it’s nothing short of a tragedy.

Image: Flick/tmhall922

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About Danielle Sullivan


Danielle Sullivan

Danielle Sullivan writes for Babble Pets. She is also an award-winning parenting writer, who authors a monthly column for NY Parenting and ASPCA Parents blog. You can read more of her work at her blog,Some Puppy To Love. Read bio and latest posts → Read Danielle's latest posts →

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21 thoughts on “New Mom Smothers Baby After Falling Asleep While Breastfeeding, Sues Hospital

  1. andrea says:

    I had all three of my children at home, so this was never as issue. We were immediately on a queen size bed on the floor in a warm room with no excess blankets or pilllows.

    My guess is that this woman was signficantly overweight, with very large breasts. If that is the case, then the nurses and midwives should definitely be held responsible. They should know that obese women are at a very high risk of suffocating their babies.

    Just one more reason I hit the trails for a five mile run every morning, and count my calories.

  2. goddess says:

    Good thing it happened at the hospital. Who would she have to sue if it happened at home?
    So every woman needs a booby-sitter now?
    Perhaps those hospitals will just switch back to formula-feeding IN nursery by qualified personnel only.
    Thanks yourselves peeps!

  3. Micky says:

    @Andrea: that is an incredibly judgmental and cruel assumption to make. I am glad you get to feel superior to this woman who just lost her newborn daughter.

  4. anon says:

    Well good for you, Andrea. Really, was the last sentence necessary? Full of yourself much?

  5. Ri-chan says:

    The mother and baby were patients in the hospital, that makes them the hospitals responsibility.

  6. Amber says:

    Wow, I’m obese and my son is still alive and kicking at 2 1/2. I guess I’m one of the lucky fatties, huh?

  7. Kelly says:

    that’s horrible, but I don’t think she should sue for a freak accident like that.

  8. Stacie says:

    I had an emergency c-section after 12 hours of unmedicated labor/4 of pushing, lost a lot of blood, had narcotic pain relievers that made me hallucinate. A nurse brought me my son for a feeding at 11 pm on Day 1, when I still had the cath and couldn’t get up at all, and, said she’d be back in 20 minutes.

    Well, at 3 a.m., I woke up to her scolding me for falling asleep with the baby. There was literally no way I could have avoided it…there was no way to force myself to stay awake in that state. (I’d wanted to room in, but the complications made it almost impossible for me to take care of my son; hecne, the nurse brought him to me.) She was supposed to have come back!

    Yeah, there was also no way I could have rolled over onto my son–I was pretty well immobilized. Still.

    I’m not sure if this poor woman’s situation is the result of anyone’s negligence or a tragic accident, but it’s awful nonetheless.

  9. goddess says:

    Well then I guess the hospitals will either have to provide booby-sitters, or take those babies down to the nursery to ensure safe formula-fed experiences provided by professionals ;-)

  10. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Goddess, it wasn’t witty the first time you said it. Andrea, you may be thin, but your attitude is ugly.
    I think this case is a horrible tragedy, but without knowing more I cannot make a call of who I would hold responsible.

  11. goddess says:

    MS, just for you: I guess the hospitals will either have to provide booby-sitters, or take those babies down to the nursery to ensure safe formula-fed experiences provided by professionals ;-) SInce y’all are the Arbiter of All Things Acceptable Herein and all, LOL ;-P

  12. Kay says:

    The hospital I had my daughter in basically forced rooming in. I was told that the only time my daughter would go to the nursery would be if she needed testing or some procedure or there was a complication. According to the nurse, it was the expectation that the moms do everything for the baby, feeding, changing, cleaning the cord, etc. That was fine with me. However, I did have a C-section, catheter and was on strong pain medication. It is a lot to go through and everyone’s tolerance of pain medication, etc is going to be different. I felt very alert and couldn’t sleep even when I tried. but, everyoen’s reaction wil be different. I can totally see where a mother on pain killers, following a difficult labor, suffering from exhaustion may not be in a state to adequately care for a newborn.

  13. cati says:

    The judgment I see here from other women makes me ashamed. She is just suffering and needs to blame someone else. Place yourselves in her shoes.

    Cati from Portugal

  14. Lauren says:

    My heart goes out to this mother. I honestly think this is a situation in which no one person can truly be at fault. But you know that mother is going to carry guilt with her forever. I would hate to be in her shoes. And she deserves our empathy.

    I only hope that situations like this do not cause a response to be overly reactive. I loved having my daughter in my room. It was the only night that it would be just she and I together with no one else & I savored the bonding it provided. I would hate to have to miss that because hospital insurance companies impose overly stringent policies.

  15. trumanji says:

    Why is there no way to report posts as inappropriate? Goddess and Andrea both need to be banned.

  16. Emily says:

    I feel so sorry for the woman that this happened to. With my first 2 daughters it was my choice to do whatever. The last birth, baby number 3 I was forced to room in with my son. I was told this is how they do it, everyone rooms, unless testing too. I could totally see where an accident like this could happen. I didn’t sleep for 3 days, until I got OUT of the hospital. I am a light sleeper, but there where times when I felt like I could drifted off, but when I felt like that I just put my son in the bassinet cart until I could regain myself. It was truly hard, even though I delivered normally. Who can sleep when nurses are coming in ever 2 hours to blood pressure you. Something always came up. I truly am sorry that you lost your little bundle of joy. I have a Madison too and I can only imagine what a difficult time this must be. I lost my mother in an accident. Her seat belt didn’t work in a toyota corolla. We could have sued the toyota company, but didn’t. The blood money would never bring her back and I would never want to benefit from a death like that. Think it over, before you keep on pursuing. I know you want someone to pay for what happened and I totally understand that, but only time will help. You will never forget what happened but you need to forgive the hospital and yourself. I don’t personally view it as your fault, but I’m sure as a mother you probally do. I hope time will ease your pain and I’ll be praying for you as well.

  17. Shocked says:

    I was enjoying reading posts on this site. I am sorry I looked at the comments. You ladies (you know who you are) should be ashamed of yourselves. You were not there and you do not know what happened. RIP little baby, my prayers go out to this mother.

  18. Mel says:

    Kaiser forces you to room with the baby unless it is a preemie or there is something wrong with it. This policy kind of pisses me off because I want to be able to sleep after I give birth. On one hand I look at it like they just want to lower thier own workload and make you keep the baby so they dont have to do anything with it. But, on the other hand, it probably cuts down on mistaken baby problems.

  19. kim says:

    I’m still trying to find where it said the mother was fat or obese???? May God be with this mother and that she can find her own peace.

  20. Tonya says:

    There are MANY hospitals who now follow the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization that advocate rooming-in for mothers and babies. It facilitates bonding and breastfeeding. Most of the hospitals I have worked at in my career (all in WA, OR, MT, and CA) have not had well-baby nurseries at all.
    It’s impossible to know the full set of circumstances that led to this tragedy, but I feel that there is some blend of responsibility by both the family and the healthcare providers. The Academy of Pediatrics advocates babies sleeping in the same room as their parents, but it does caution against “bed sharing” exactly because of the risks that lead to accidental deaths such as this one. My current employer in Washington state gives parents a form outlining our recommendation against bed-sharing, and requires a signature from the parent showing that they understand the education and agree not to sleep with their infants while in the hospital.
    In this case, if it was suggested to her by hospital personnel that the baby would be safe if she fell asleep while breastfeeding, then perhaps the hospital does bear some responsibility for not providing accurate information and education.
    Ultimately, we’re all responsible to learn as much as we can about infant safety before giving birth. I hope this mother finds peace and healing after her loss.

  21. Sadie says:

    so she kills her baby and then blames others? i hope they don’t give her a dime.

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