Is Forgotten Baby Syndrome a tragic side effect of the busy lives we lead today or is there another reason why these tragedies keep on occurring? Could you ever imagine this happening to you?

Can you imagine accidentally leaving your baby in the back of a car and forgetting about him or her as you go about your day? Only to return later and find the most horrific consequence of your mistake?

We all believe this will absolutely never EVER happen to us. Ever. And we’re all incredulous when we hear of these tragedies and let our judgment echo our horror.

“It will never happen to me.”

In Australia, there have been too many tragedies of young children dying in a car. And in the USA, about 30 children die of heatstroke each year as a result of being forgotten inside a car.

It Only Takes Two Hours…

Two hours is all it takes for a young child to die inside a car. Children can’t regulate their body temperature like adults can, which puts them at significant risk. Even when the outside temperature is just 21C, the temperature inside a car can reach 49C in only 45 minutes.

These tragic incidents keep occurring, so much so, it’s now referred to as “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” whereby an adult caregiver forgets about the presence of a child in a car and as a result puts the child in danger, or worse.

US based neuroscientist Professor David Diamond, has been studying these cases for ten years and suggests there is a pattern. And not one factor is the parent’s negligence – this can happen to anyone. “The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant,” he suggests.

According to Professor Diamond, when the parent is travelling the same well-travelled route, this activates what he calls the ‘habit brain memory system’, which means the brain is effectively on autopilot.

“The important factors involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia – the dominant brain system, is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist.”

In other words, our dominant brain works really hard to ensure we stay on autopilot and the “thinking” part of the brain is too weakened to fight it and alert our brain to a change from the norm. Any unexpected deviation from this routine, such as an earlier departure for work, oversleeping accidently and rushing to catch up, or a road works detour, can create a situation where autopilot ‘kicks in’ and the brain forces actions in keeping with the normal routine.

A series of events can lead to a catastrophic breakdown in the brain’s safety systems.

The brain then fills in gaps, creating ‘false memories’ – where you believe you’ve dropped your child off at daycare. The memory circuit can be ‘rebooted’ such as if the child cries – in other words, you have a ‘close call’.

There is a physiological reason why it happens. It is no fault of the parent. The parent was not careless, nor forgetful nor are they to blame, although this provides cold comfort as it will be a blame they carry for the rest of their lives.

And yes, we lead busy lifestyles and pile too many responsibilities on top of each other. We may be overtired or stressed with work and life, and yes, rear-facing child restraints mean we’re unable to see our little people as easily, and these can all contribute to the cause.

We can use strategies like putting our handbags, briefcases or mobile phones at our babies’ feet, we can put rubber bands around our wrists to remind us, we can use dedicated apps – we’re now so much more aware of the risks because of these tragedies.

As loving, attentive parents, we confidently know that this will never, ever happen to us. Not on our watch. We can stake our life on it.

However the sad and tragic fact is every one of those parents who have left a child behind, who have had that horrific realisation, who have raced back to their cars and who have buried their babies, believed exactly the same thing.

It will never happen to me.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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  • Nope, it never happened to me and nor can I understand how anyone could do it. Our kids are way too important to forget


  • Putting your handbag on the back seat or the floor instead of in the front seat be a good start.


  • Devastating to the whole family in this case. We lead such busy lives and some babies pay the cost with their lives. Sad.


  • Nobody is immune to this. It’s so sad.


  • I heard of an Australian invention last year that would alert you if seat belts ( in baby seats) were still engaged when you left the car but the progress had been stalled due to lack of funds. Surely the government or even car manufacturers would see this as a worthy investment?


  • Thanks for sharing this interesting article.


  • Omg I never knew that


  • This isn’t a new issue – its just getting more attention now and cars have to be locked up. Kids used to be left in cars whilst parents went into the butchers, the newsagents, post office etc – all the windows would be down. I can remember this as a child. Of course, there also wasn’t any seatbeats around and you could trust that the kids would be ok. Nowadays, you can’t trust anyone. Mum told me a story about a lady who left her baby outside the butchers and walked home with just her meat (this is going back 30 years); she freaked out, ran back tot he butchers and the baby was safe and sound inside the shop getting looked after. Would that happen now? Doubtful.


  • looks good


  • wow so there is an app for this. such a sad event for those families


  • The loss of a child in these circumstances is absolutely devastating.


  • rip little angels and prayers and thoughts to the familes


  • Mothers shouldn’t judge eachother, we’re all human. All we can do is offer support and advice in the hope that these incidents stop occurring. One idea is to turn mobile phones off in the car, after all, you can always check for messages and missed calls; this helps you to remain focussed on your immediate environment, ie, driving and your child.


  • It is a very frightening thought that it could happen to anyone of us although I wouldn’t put a rubber band around my wrist – ever – as that is bad for the circulation. I think the handbag in the back seat is a good idea.


  • I always feel so sad for the parents in these situations. It’s true that anyone of us can have this happen!


  • It is so unimaginable and so inconceivable that we all refuse to believe the possibility of it happening to us.
    The fact that it very well could is terrifying, its much easier to go with your gut and deny the possibility


  • So tragic something I’m sure you would never get over


  • I have to say I know how it can happen in my case if was 2 mins but it was enough to give me a fright, I was tried had just had number 2 and number 1 was sick and I totally walked into the gp office to get sick child checked out, thankfully where where known there (child 1 long term sick) and the lovely nurse asked if husband had baby.


  • This is such an emotional situation. Thankyou for bringing this topic forward. I have the tendency to check all house doors and car doors are locked 2 or even 3 times, leave my handbag in the back seat so I always have to check the whole car, and other over-the-top protective actions. My close call however came when my 2nd child was only weeks old. I had been taking antibiotics and pain killers regularly to help with an infection from the birth. I stood at the sink in the early hours of the morning and burst into tears, realising that in my absolute exhaustion, I had hopped out of bed to get my husband his medication and I had accidentally swallowed them thinking I was there for Panadol again. Thankfully a phone call to the hospital reassured me I would be all right but would be extremely drousy for 12-24 hours, and I had enough expressed breast milk in the fridge and freezer to get bubby through for 24 hours (and throw out the tainted milk I had to express during this time so I wasn’t engorged). Even though it had been locked away and safe from children, it was a situation that went wrong so quickly.


  • I find these accidents to be so tragic.
    No one knowingly would do this to their child, or we would hope not.
    I felt so bad for that poor family.


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