Regency-era Infant Suffocation

A bonnet can’t hurt, can it?

Recently, there have been reports of a troubling rise of infant suffocation in bed, even as the rate of SIDS has been decreasing. Researching this post, I’ve just learned that infant sleep positioners are no longer recommended, having been discredited by the FDA. 

In the Regency, infant suffocation was a real problem:

“Sometimes from accident but oftener from culpable inattention, young children are not infrequently smothered in beds and cradles.”

Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Hanging, Suffocation: and an Account of the Means to be Employed for Recovery. To which are Added, the Treatment Proper in Cases of Poison; with Cautions and Suggestions Respecting Circumstances of Sudden Danger (whew!) by James Curry M.D. (1815)

Dr. Curry is careful to distinguish infant smothering from “bruising by overlaying,” a condition caused when a child is crushed by others, often the parents, they sleep with.

Suffocation occurs when there is no other air to consume in the vacuum created by bedclothing. Yet there may be time to save the child, Dr. Curry notes, if the body is still warm. As in the case of drowning, respiration by artificial means may be implemented. Also, the body should be exposed to a current of fresh air and sprinkled with water, as a stimulus.

Dr. Curry reserves special condemnation of parents and cats (!) who contribute to the dangers of infant suffocation, noting:

“..a very improper habit of cats lying in the bed or cradle of young children; as these animals, from their love of Warmth, almost always lay themselves across the Child’s neck, and often either cover the Mouth with their bodies, or press the bedclothes over it, so as to impede or stop the breathing.”

 

sleeping girl, pouncing cat
I think we’re fine here, but it’s still advised to keep the cat out of the cradle.

 

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