"Forgotten baby syndrome" has been recognised as a significant and real medical condition that can lead to parents leaving children unattended in hot cars.

The syndrome has received new attention, following the death of a little girl in Townsville on Friday, allegedly at the hands of her mother and her mother's new partner.

According to leading US neuroscientist Professor David Diamond - who has given evidence in Australian courts on the subject - the syndrome occurs when parents repeat a routine several times, sending their brains into "autopilot".

In 2014, Victorian mother Jayde Poole was found not guilty of the manslaughter of her five-month-old daughter Bella, because she was deemed to have suffered from forgotten baby syndrome.

Bella was left in a rear-seat bassinet after a trip to Hungry Jack's with another of her three children on a 30C day in Bendigo in 2012.

Ms Poole, 29, otherwise described in court as a "good" single-mother, accepted "moral responsibility" for the death.

Jayde Poole, who was found guilty of manslaughter after her baby died when left in a car, was said to have suffered from “forgotten baby syndrome”.
Jayde Poole, who was found guilty of manslaughter after her baby died when left in a car, was said to have suffered from “forgotten baby syndrome”.

''That particular evening was actually very complex, because the normal routine for Jayde would have been to have had Bella asleep that night,'' Professor Diamond told the Victorian Supreme Court in 2014.

''I would speculate that at one level her brain is processing this information that at that time of the night, Bella should be in her bedroom sleeping … A second level that complicates this is that for the first time, as I understand it, [the six-year-old] is now sitting in the front seat.

''It makes it a very different situation and so Jayde's attention is focused on [her son], and so you, in a sense, have competing memories of 'Bella should be home in her bedroom, [the six-year-old] is in the front seat.'''

Professor Diamond said ''the brain actually creates an alternative reality that the child must be safe, and so in many cases where parents are supposed to bring their children, for example, to daycare, the parent believes the child must be safe in the daycare''.

''What is very clear is that Jayde believed that Bella was safe and sleeping in her bedroom, and so the brain has created in a sense a reality to fill in the memory gap.''

Originally published as Forgotten baby syndrome: What is it?


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