Parents are today warned about the dangers of nappy bags – following the deaths of at least 12 young babies in England and Wales.
The infants, aged between two months and a year, died from suffocation or choking after putting a plastic nappy sack in their mouth.
Now the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is alerting families to the risky behaviour that can result in such tragic accidents.
In most cases, the bags were stored within the baby’s reach, such as close to a cot or beneath a mattress for convenience.
RoSPA warns never to place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot or pram and to always keep them at a safe distance – away from a curious baby’s reach.
While the deaths have occurred since 2001, the charity believes there may be many more that have not come to public attention.
Until now it was assumed that there was little link between them and each was a “one-off” tragedy. It meant that many similar incidents were not brought to the attention of national accident prevention organisations or logged by Trading Standards.
RoSPA public health adviser Sheila Merrill said: “Parents and carers are generally aware of the risk posed by plastic bags but don’t seem to realise that nappy sacks are just as dangerous.
“Children are naturally inquisitive. They want to touch things and put objects in their mouth, but RoSPA has found that, sadly, this can sometimes end in tragedy where nappy sacks are concerned.
“The risk comes after changing or bathing a baby as parents often put nappy sacks down without thinking, and it only takes a moment for a baby to grab it and choke.”
She added: “RoSPA is aware of 12 baby deaths in England and Wales but believes there could be many more that have fallen under the radar.”
Nappy sacks are particularly flimsy, making them small enough to fit into little mouths. And they do not rustle in the same way as standard plastic bags, so can be easily breathed in by babies without their parents noticing.
Now RoSPA is distributing thousands of posters and leaflets to GP surgeries, parent and toddler groups and family centres highlighting the dangers.
The organisation is also concerned at the lack of mandatory suffocation warnings on packaging and the availability of many sacks as loose bags instead of on a roll, which increases risk to babies.