A mum who drank half a bottle of vodka before killing her baby girl by accidentally smothering her wept as a court was told she is ‘serving her own life sentence’.
Stacey Atkinson woke to find the little girl lying next to her ‘lifeless’ after she fell asleep on a couch with seven-week-old Chloe Atkinson Wilkie in her arms.
She then shouted upstairs to Chloe’s dad, who found her ‘hysterical’ holding the child, the Liverpool Echo reports .
Atkinson, 30, had been struggling to get into a routine with her new baby and had barely three hours sleep the night before, Liverpool Crown Court heard.
The upsetting case has highlighted the potential dangers of sleeping next to your baby – with medical experts warning that sleeping on the sofa is particularly dangerous.
NHS guidelines around “co-sleeping” clearly state the potential dangers of the practice, reports the Liverpool Echo.
The NHS rules also outline that there are circumstances in which it is NEVER okay to sleep next to your baby.
This is the most recent guidance on sleeping next to babies.
Co-sleeping – what are the risks?
Cot deaths are on the rise in the West Midlands
Some parents choose to share a bed with their babies.
However, it is important for you to know that there are some circumstances in which bed-sharing with your baby can be very dangerous.
The NHS says that the safest place for your baby to sleep for the first six months is in a cot in the same room as you.
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While some parents may take the choice to share a bed with their babies, there are some circumstances in which you should NEVER sleep next to your child.
It’s especially important not to share a bed with your baby if you or your partner:
Smoke – this is the case regardless of where or when you smoke and even if you never smoke in bed Drinking – if you have recently drunk alcohol Drugs – if you have taken medication or drugs that make you sleep more heavily
As well as a higher risk of SIDS, there’s also a risk you might roll over in your sleep and suffocate your baby.
Co-sleeping also increases the risk of your baby being caught between a wall and the bed, or rolling out of an adult-size bed and hurting themself.
The risks of co-sleeping are also increased if your baby was born prematurely or has a low birth rate.
Why you should NEVER fall asleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair
Sleeping with your baby on a sofa or armchair is linked to a higher risk of SIDS – it is always safer to put your baby back in their cot before you fall asleep.
The Lullaby Trust is a charity specifically focused on SIDS. They claim that sleeping on a sofa or armchair with your baby can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times.
The charity also says that sleeping on a sofa or in an armchair with your baby is one of the most high-risk situations for them.
Guidance from the Lullaby Trust says: “Make sure that you do not accidentally fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. If you think you might fall asleep, put the baby down in a safe place to sleep.
“If you are breastfeeding, have your partner stay up with you, breastfeed in a different position where you are confident you might not fall asleep, or feed the baby somewhere else.
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How to reduce the risk of SIDS
This is the current NHS guidance on how to reduce the risks of SIDS:
Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the same room as you, for the first six months Don’t smoke during pregnancy or breastfeeding, and don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby Don’t share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs, or you’re a smoker Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair Don’t let your baby get too hot or cold Keep your baby’s head uncovered – their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders Place your baby in the “feet to foot” position, with their feet at the end of the cot or moses basket The Stacey Atkinson case
Chloe was otherwise healthy and the cause of death was “overlaying”, due to “co-sleeping” on a sofa, which is particularly dangerous, a coroner found.
Chloe died at Atkinson‘s home in Marshalls Cross Road, St Helens on the morning of November 19, 2016, the court heard.
The mum-of-three rang 999 at 6.23am, said Philip Astbury, prosecuting.
Chloe was pronounced dead at 7.15am and Atkinson admitted to police she had drunk five vodkas, the court heard.
Officers described her as “utterly distraught” and in shock, while her partner said: “I told her, I told her but she wouldn’t listen.”
Mr Astbury said: “There was an empty brandy bottle present on the mantelpiece, an unfinished drink of vodka and Pepsi, and in the fridge a bottle of vodka was recovered, from which a substantial amount had been drunk.”
Mr Astbury said: “In his opinion the defendant had fallen asleep on the settee, rolled on top of Chloe, who became trapped underneath her, possibly facing the cushion of the sofa.”
A blood sample found Atkinson had an estimated 190mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood at 3am – the time she believed she fell asleep. The legal limit is 80mg.
Atkinson told police she had past drink issues but not during her pregnancy or after Chloe’s birth.
She confessed to drinking half a bottle of vodka and said she knew the dangers of co-sleeping, but had fallen asleep with Chloe on her chest once previously.
Atkinson, who has no previous convictions, admitted wilful neglect of a child and sat shaking and crying in court.
The mum, who had two other daughters, aged 10 and 13, has since had another daughter, aged one.
Laura Tipping, defending, said Atkinson was “serving her own life sentence”, whatever the outcome of the hearing.
She said her client’s “grief was palpable” and the two-year delay “may be seen as a sentence in itself”.
Ms Tipping said: “The defendant is truly remorseful, having learned through bitter experience.
“Having found Chloe’s body she immediately shouted for her partner and telephoned the emergency services.
“She then proceeded to carry out what must have been harrowing CPR on her young baby, until the emergency services attended.”
Ms Tipping said drinking before feeding her child wasn’t usual for Atkinson and Chloe had reflux problems.
She said: “The defendant had barely three hours sleep the previous evening and as a result of that, was particularly tired herself.”
Social services and the probation service found Atkinson was not a risk to her other children, which remain in her care.
Atkinson suffers from depression, anxiety, personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Ms Tipping said the latter condition meant she was normally very careful when feeding Chloe.
She said Atkinson gave up a job due to mental health problems and since Chloe’s death was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ms Tipping said: “She indicated she will ‘carry the guilt for the rest of her life’, saying ‘Chloe trusted her and she let her down’.”
Judge Andrew Menary, QC, said it was “a tragic case” but Atkinson‘s drunkenness was a seriously aggravating factor.
He said: “Sadly, you had been drinking that day and evening and by the time you were settling down on the settee with Chloe in your arms to watch some late night TV because the child wasn’t settling, you were significantly under the influence of alcohol.
“I have no doubt also that part of the cause of this tragedy was your extreme tiredness, due to the normal and demanding nature of caring for a small baby.
“But in the early hours of the morning you fell asleep with Chloe in your arms. You knew the dangers of co-sleeping with a baby, particularly on a settee, which is obviously highly dangerous.
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“When you woke up shortly before 6am that morning, approximately three hours after you fell asleep, it was clear to you Chloe had become trapped between you and the settee and was unresponsive. You realised the horror of what you had done.
“Whatever sentence I impose today, you have already suffered the terrible punishment of the reality of what you did.”
The judge said society demanded a prison sentence for those who neglect their child “with tragic consequences”, but it would be suspended.
He said: “I have no doubt you’re deeply remorseful for what you have done and have learned form this bitter experience.
“At the time you had two older children – since these tragic events you and your partner have been blessed with a new daughter.
“The authorities have investigated this matter and are satisfied you and your partner are, in all other respects, perfectly loving, caring and capable parents.
“They have no concerns for the welfare of the children or your ability to provide love, care, support and nurturing for them, as you would no doubt truly have loved to have done for Chloe.”
Judge Menary handed her 12 months in jail, suspended for 12 months, with a year‘s supervision and 20-day rehabilitation course.