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Forgotten Baby Syndrome: Why Parents Leave Their Kids in Hot Cars & How to Ensure It Never Happens to You

Last updated: May 29, 2021
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If you’re a parent and you’ve never heard of forgotten baby syndrome, it’s time to listen up. Unfortunately, the best parents in the world can accidentally leave their babies in hot cars, ultimately leading to death. Forgotten baby syndrome can happen to anyone, and it’s in your best interest as a parent to learn more about it so that you can prevent it from ever happening to your baby.

What Is Forgotten Baby Syndrome?

First thing’s first—let’s look at what constitutes forgotten baby syndrome. Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FBS) refers to when a parent or an adult accidentally leaves a baby or young child in a locked car, often with tragic results. Many parents swear they would never do this to their beloved baby, but that’s the thing—it’s not on purpose. These parents are not negligent or abusive; they are often doting caregivers.

One sobering example is this one chronicled in Parents magazine. The mother, a busy university professor, said this about her then-11-month-old daughter, Jenna, when she was bringing her to the babysitter’s house: “I was talking and singing to her. Five minutes into the drive, Jenna started to sing in this little voice she uses when she’s sleepy. I had a child-safety mirror, and when I looked in it I could see that she was going to fall asleep.”

“In a very detailed way, I visualized getting there, walking around to the backseat door, unbuckling her straps, getting her out very gingerly, and covering her ears so the babysitter’s door wouldn’t wake her. I pictured myself saying to the babysitter, ‘Jenna’s sleeping. Can I lay her in the crib?'”

Unfortunately, though, instead of driving half a block past her office to the babysitter’s house, the mother absent-mindedly stopped at her office. She said, “I parked my car. My bags were in the front seat. I walked around and I got them out, and I went into work.”

She accidentally left Jenna in the car on a 92-degree day for the next seven hours. Jenna did not survive.

Unfortunately, nearly 40 families experience FBS every year, which means 40 babies die because they were accidentally left in the back seat of a hot car. Forty babies is too many.

forgotten baby syndrome

How Does Forgotten Baby Syndrome Happen?

Dr. David Diamond, a professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology, and physiology at the University of South Florida, tells Bundoo that, each day people perform tasks that become routine, involving little conscious thought.

Dr. Diamond, who researches the neurobiology of FBS, says these unconscious actions are controlled by a part of the brain called the motor cortex. An example would be driving to and from work—you probably take the same route every day, not really thinking too much about it. Have you ever left work, gotten in the car, and arrived home without really remembering the drive? That’s the motor cortex in action. Dr. Diamond says this is our motor memory freeing us up to think about the future while completing the task at hand.

In addition, Dr. Diamond says, there’s the hippocampus—the cognitive part of the brain responsible for making clear decisions. An example might be that you have decided to stop at the store on your way home from work. Basically, with FBS, the motor memory part of our brain competes against the cognitive part of the brain. The motor memory overrules the hippocampus, which could mean that, even though you had the intent to stop at the store on the way home, you still find yourself forgetting and ending up at home without stopping.

Can you see how this could result in FBS?

forgotten baby syndrome

Tips to Ensure Forgotten Baby Syndrome Never Happens to You

Though FBS is triggered by a completely normal neurological process, that doesn’t make it any less tragic. In fact, knowing your body is wired this way makes it more important to actively fight against FBS. Hot cars and infants are a fatal combination. To avoid FBS from happening to you or your child, keep these tips in mind every time you get into the car.

  • Knowledge is power. If you didn’t even know about FBS, you would have much less of a chance of preventing it. Simply by knowing that this can happen to anyone should make you more aware about every time your child is put into a vehicle.
  • Tweak your routine. Consider adding a step to your car routine that includes checking the back seat before you get out of the vehicle. The Look Before You Lock campaign is an initiative meant to encourage this type of proactive behavior.
  • There’s an app for that. The Kars 4 Kids app is specifically designed to combat FBS, alerting drivers when they leave their cars to remember there is a baby in the backseat.

Forgotten baby syndrome can happen to anyone—even you—so we hope that these tips and information can save a child’s life. Feel free to visit our other life-saving guides such as Diabetes and Driving: Everything You Need to Know and 7 Tips to Avoid Hydroplaning & Keep Your Car in Control.

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