Every year, babies are left in the backseats of cars to die. Every year, the media puts out article after article telling parents how to keep this from happening to their babies. And every year, parents get insulted and annoyed. Defensive. Offended.
They'd never leave their baby in the backseat of a car.

They'd never forget their baby.  

And so they turn the page; click through to something else; pay no attention to any of the tips and tricks experts are putting out there to prevent Forgotten Baby Syndrome  (FBS) from striking another family; killing another baby; from plunging another parent into a profound and lingering state of grief.

But before they do that, leave that webpage, for instance, they might leave a comment in the comments section. Just to make sure we know they aren't that kind of parent. "Who does that?" they might comment. "Exactly who leaves their kid in the backseat of a car?"

They do that because they don't want YOU to think THEY could be one of THOSE parents. The kind that let their babies die.

FBS in Israel

Meantime, Forgotten Baby Syndrome is as likely to happen in Israel as anywhere else. A month ago, the Jerusalem Post had an article on this very subject, saying that so far this year, four Israeli babies have died after being left behind in cars. The number has probably risen since then.

The prevailing attitude of "this can't happen to me" is unfortunately, the very thing that keeps parents from taking steps to protect themselves and their children against the syndrome. We offered our free Kars4Kids Safety app in 2014. The app toggles the on-switch in a parent's brain that will help him remember there's a baby in the backseat of the car. But parents think: this can't happen to me—I'm a good parent. So they turn away from our offer, and go look at something more interesting, for instance, the Kardashians.

It's a pity. Because it's easy enough to prevent FBS. You don't even need our free app. You can leave your purse or cell phone in the backseat of your car. That will do the trick. But first you have to be willing to see that FBS has nothing to do with the quality of your parenting.

Okay then, you might ask, if quality of care is not a factor in FBS, what is?

 

Executive Brain Function

The answer? A normal function of the brain, a built-in mechanism that overwrites our executive brain function when we're overwhelmed by life.

The executive functions of the brain help us organize and manage tasks. Executive functions tell your hands what to do when you're buttoning your shirt, planning a trip to the seaside, or cooking pasta. As you do these things, your executive functions kick into action, calling into play your working memory, ability to reason, problem-solving skills, and flexibility in carrying out tasks.

Think about what it takes to get to work on time.  You need to think about when to set the alarm to go off, how much time you need to leave yourself to shower, eat breakfast, prepare a lunch, and drive to your office. You have to think if you need to leave time to buy gas. You need to remember where you've put your darned car keys. We don't think about any of this too deeply, because our executive functions are there to do it for us, like a whole group of good buddies.

So let's say it's your turn to take the baby to daycare on the way to work. As you drive, your working memory kicks in and reminds you that you to take the turn off for day care. When you're in a good mood, and you had a good night's sleep, your executive brain functions are in perfect working order. It all goes off without a hitch.

But what if your boss is threatening to fire you and you're not getting along with your husband/wife and the baby is cutting her first molar and cried all night? You'd be stressed out. And stress can short-circuit executive functions. When that happens, the working memory is automatically overwritten just like you'd highlight and overwrite written text on your computer screen, in effect, erasing what was there before.

Now let's say that since your baby had a rough night of teething, she was lulled to sleep by the motion of the car. She's quiet and your working memory has cut out. If she'd cry, then no problem, you'd know she's in the backseat of your car. But with her being quiet and your executive functions on the fritz, she's DOOMED (God forbid).

Your conscious mind has been overcome. You'd have no power to resist this most natural and automatic brain response. It's unavoidable. Your brain was created  this way. All brains are created this way. It's how brains work.

You can examine story after tragic story of Forgotten Baby Syndrome to find they are pretty much all the same. Click those links. Read those stories. And internalize them. Quality of care is never a factor.

But let's get back to you. Let's say you are indeed stressed out and the baby is asleep in the backseat of the car, safely strapped into her car seat. If she were to cry out, that would definitely snap you out of your cognitive haze. Or let's say your spouse just happened to choose that moment to call and apologize for the spat you had this morning. The ring tone could do that for you: snap you out of the cognitive fog you're in and help you remember the baby in the backseat.  Or perhaps the car radio is playing and Proud Mary comes on. Your baby's name is "Miriam" and that's close enough that it does it for you: triggers your memory.

Or let's say none of those things happen, but maybe you have Kars4Kids Safety installed on your phone and it triggers an alarm when you leave the car, reminding you to check the backseat (yes, that's all it does). ANY ONE OF THESE THINGS COULD SNAP YOU OUT OF YOUR BRAIN FOG to put your working memory back to rights; to get your executive functioning skills back in power.

Not going to happen

But with the baby fast asleep in the backseat, quiet as a sleeping baby, unless you've set up a reminder, or some miracle occurs, that's just not going to happen. There is nothing to trigger your working memory (you know: the part of you that would NEVER ,EVER FORGET YOUR BABY).

Now this is not just some nutty theory. It is most definitely hard science. And it is something that can happen to anyone. It is something that can happen to YOU!

And if it did happen to you, to your baby, you’d have to live with it for the rest of your life.

"Memory is a machine."

Not yet convinced it could happen to your family? Then take it from Dr. David Diamond, who in a 2009 Washington Post piece on Forgotten Baby Syndrome,  explained why parents forget their precious children in the backseats of their cars. “Memory is a machine,” said Diamond, “and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”

It's just the way brains work under a crap load of stress. FBS says nothing about parenting ability. It's just an involuntary human brain process.

And it can happen to "good parents," too.

“The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," says Dr. Diamond. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted—such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back—it can entirely disappear.”

Exactly the opposite

Janette Fenell, Founder and President of KidsandCars.org said, in an interview with Contemporary Pediatrics entitled, “Good parents” denial puts kids at risk for heat stroke. “I like to make the point that it’s truly the opposite of what the perception is in these tragic situations. People in their minds really want to think this happens most often to people who are drunk or [who] are not good parents, and rarely to the good parents. It’s exactly the opposite.”

At Kars4Kids we tremble at the idea that parental pride or defensiveness could stand in the way of offering an added layer of protection to a child. Moreover, did I mention our app is FREE? We just really want your baby to be safe. We want him to grow up and be a fantastic human being. We want you to watch him graduate, be someone in the workforce, have children of his own.

By the way, another thing we want you to know is how quickly heat can rise in a closed car to deadly levels in a matter of minutes. That's why we created our hot car challenge.

 

Think about this: if an adult can't bear to sit in a hot car for 15 minutes (with temperatures rising ever higher), what is it like for a baby or toddler? It's nasty to think about it.

But as parents, we must think about it.

Especially with summer in full force. We know that the rate of infant deaths from heatstroke as a result of being left behind in cars rises as the summer heat reaches its peak. Four Israeli babies have already died this summer as of this writing. By the time you read this, that number will have risen, tragically, inevitably.  Mostly because parents don't believe it could happen to them and their babies.

A mission

You don't have to download our app. You can put your cell phone or your purse in the backseat of your car, which can help you remember there's a baby back there, too. There are a gazillion creative ways you can find to help trigger your working memory when you're stressed out, so your baby stays safe.

But first, you're going to have to accept that Forgotten Baby Syndrome can happen to anyone, even to the best of parents.

Once you accept that reality, you can begin to do what you need to do, and what every parent should do, to keep your baby safe.

Forgotten Baby Syndrome: please don’t let it happen to even one more baby. And certainly not to your own.


Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share