– Why doctor: On June 20, a Nazarene failed to drop off his son in the nursery and forgot him in the back of his car. After spending several hours alone in the heat inside the vehicle, the 14-month-old baby died. In this situation, it is an involuntary oversight. Can we talk about the forgotten baby syndrome?
Fanny Jacques: In the case of this drama that took place in Saint-Nazaire, it is truly the syndrome of the forgotten baby. There is talk of this phenomenon, which was first described in the United States as “Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FPS)”, when parents do not remember that their child is in their car.
Over the past 20 years, more than 800 children have literally been burned to death in cars. Although the cases are rare, they are frequent enough to talk about a syndrome. For some time now, we have been beginning to pay more and more attention to it, but it is still underdiagnosed.
This is not the first time this type of tragedy has taken place. To date, there are no official figures in France for this type of incident occurring during periods of heat. In the United States, an average of 37 children die from hyperthermia in a vehicle each year, according to a Canadian study. But how can you forget your child in your car?
Researchers have explained that this involuntary forgetfulness was caused by a competition between the brain’s “habitual memory” system, that is, the recorded routines, and the “prospective memory” system, which takes care of organizing and planning tasks to be performed later. .
In case of forgotten baby syndrome, the brain goes into “autopilot” mode. It is clear that the “habitual memory” system takes over and crushes the “potential memory” system. Result: we forget a crucial event or an important task to be performed. It can happen to anyone. Thus, no one is immune to the forgotten baby syndrome.
Once “forward memory” is set aside, it does not return. That is why this type of incident lasts a long time and the parents realize that they have forgotten it at the end of the day. Some even have a “false memory” and are persuaded throughout the day to drop their child off at school.
What Causes Forgotten Baby Syndrome?
There are not really any risk factors. When parents are stressed, exhausted or sleep deprived, “forward memory” can be suppressed. Having other worries to deal with, such as an important case, an accident, or a large meeting, can also cause us to forget certain tasks, such as dropping off our child at school or in the nursery, especially if it is not our habit. to do so.
Forgotten baby syndrome is often confused with shaken baby syndrome. However, in the case of the forgotten child’s syndrome, the parents present intact cognitive and mental functions. They also have no psychiatric history and do not suffer from burnout or depression. This is not the case with shaken baby syndrome. In this situation, the person is already fragile, at the end of his rope and no longer has control over his actions.
According to the results of the Canadian study, 13% of deaths occur after parents intentionally leave the child in the car unattended. How do they not realize the danger?
In this case, it is about immature and unconscious parents who consider their baby as a small adult, while the child does not have the same ability to express themselves and to act as an adult.
The forgotten baby syndrome can bring to mind certain tragedies that have happened in the mountains. During hikes, parents placed their child in a sling. Problem: the baby did not move, was cold and eventually died of hypothermia. We were talking about “frozen babies”. In this situation, the parents were unaware of the danger.
They would do well, just like those who cover strollers with a sheet or cloth to protect their child from the sun. But in reality, this well-meaning gesture is dangerous because it provides an “oven” effect that increases the temperature inside the stroller and can lead to dehydration of the infant.
How long after can a child alone in a vehicle be dehydrated and prone to hyperthermia?
During periods of high heat, the temperature inside a car rises by 90% in 15 minutes. When it is very hot in a car, an adult regulates his body temperature through sweat. The larger the surface area of the body, the more you sweat, the more the internal temperature is regulated. This is not possible for babies as their body surface area is small. Result: their internal temperature rises rapidly to 40 ° C and dehydration occurs rapidly.
What could be the psychological consequences for parents in light of this type of tragedy?
Following this type of incident, the criminal procedure for manslaughter, which is opened, and the grief can be very difficult for the parents. In general, the loss of a child can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even hospitalization as the parents are amazed and cannot believe that their child is dead. Then a sense of guilt arises. From that moment, reproaches can merge and the couple can come to terms.
How do you avoid forgetting your baby in your car?
To prevent these accidents, some car manufacturers are developing warning systems. It is clear that an alarm is ringing to remind the parents that their child is in the car. From now on, it is also possible to program a warning on the Waze application so as not to forget your baby in the vehicle. You can also set an alarm on your phone indicating that you need to drop off your child at school. Another tip: Place a post-it on the steering wheel. It is also recommended to place all your belongings next to your child as it forces us to open the back door.