A 30-year-old woman has been charged with the attempted murder of her newborn son who was allegedly abandoned in a roadside drain for five days before passers-by heard his cries.
The week-old baby was in a serious but stable condition in Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital, a day after a group of cyclists found him in a 8ft deep drain beside the M7 Motorway in the Sydney suburb of Quakers Hill, police said.
His mother Saifale Nai, of Quakers Hill, did not appear in the Blacktown Local Court to answer the attempted murder charge. She faces a potential maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted.
Her lawyer did not apply for bail or enter a plea to the charge. The magistrate formally refused her bail.
Nai will remain in custody until she appears in the Penrith Local Court on Friday.
“Police will allege the baby, believed to have been born on Monday (November 17), was placed into the drain on Tuesday,” a police statement said.
Andrew Pesce, a gynaecologist, obstetrician and former president of the Australian Medical Association, the nation's leading doctors' group, said such an ordeal could leave a newborn baby with long-term problems such as brain damage.
“There would still have to be some concerns about the baby,” he said.
“I would have thought that it wouldn’t have been able to survive for much longer if it didn’t start getting fed.”
He said healthy newborns had reserves to cope with relative malnutrition and often lost 10 per cent of their birth weight because their mothers could take a few days before producing sufficient milk.
The baby was found wrapped in a hospital blanket and police used hospital records to find his mother yesterday. She was questioned for hours and was briefly taken to a hospital before she was charged.
Inspector David Lagats of Quakers Hill police said doctors estimated the baby boy to be only two or three days old. He had no signs of physical injury but was malnourished and dehydrated.
Cyclists using a bicycle lane beside the motorway heard the baby’s cries.
"We actually thought it was a kitten at first, but when we went down there we could hear exactly what it was — you could definitely tell it was a baby screaming," cyclist David Otte told The Daily Telegraph.
It took six men, including three police officers, to lift a 440lb concrete lid covering the drain, the newspaper said.
Police suspect the baby was squeezed through the drain’s narrow opening and dropped to the bottom.
There had been no rain in Sydney for more than a week, so the drains were dry.
Department of Families and Community Services district director Lisa Charet said the baby is likely to be taken into state care when he is discharged from hospital.
Helen Polley, an opposition Labor Party senator, said the near-tragedy could have been avoided if emergency hatches were rolled out at Australian hospitals, police and fire stations where babies could be abandoned safely.
She also called for the repeal of laws that make child abandonment a criminal offence, which she said encouraged the problem to be hidden.