After her second day at daycare, Harper Rose Briar was strangely drowsy. On her third day at daycare, Harper died.
As Fox News reports, on January 22, the 6-month-old girl from Rutland, Vermont began going to a new daycare operated by 53-year-old Stacey Vailancourt.
Harper’s parents, Marissa Colburn and Blake Briar, say that their daughter was a healthy baby, but a poor sleeper. According to the Rutland Herald, Colburn later told police that her daughter sometimes couldn’t sleep unless she was being held.
After picking Harper up from daycare on January 23, Colburn noticed her daughter was sleepier than usual, and not on her usual schedule.
On January 24, Colburn was on her way to pick up her daughter when she received a text message telling her that Harper was sick and on the way to the hospital. When Colburn called the daycare, an EMT informed her that Harper had been found not breathing.
Vailancourt had been the one to find the baby unresponsive. She’d asked her son to perform CPR on Harper and called 911. Now, she is being charged in Harper’s death.
According to WCAX, a toxicology report found that Harper had large amounts of diphenhydramine, a sedative found in allergy and cold medicines like Benadryl, in her body. The baby’s cause of death was determined to be diphenhydramine intoxication and ruled a homicide.
The autopsy report found that there was more than one dose of the drug in Harper’s system at the time of her death. It was given to her only a few hours before she died.
Though court affidavits do not mention whether the police spoke to Vailancourt about giving the baby medication, they allege that the daycare provider was the “sole person to provide care and supervision preceding and leading up to Harper’s death.”
Vailancourt has been charged with manslaughter and authorities claim the daycare provider gave Harper a fatal dose of Benadryl in order to get the baby to sleep. As the prosecutor told the court during Vailancourt’s arraignment:
“In this affidavit of probable cause, the state is alleging that [Vaillancourt] sedated an otherwise beautiful, happy, healthy 6-month-old to the point that that baby could not lift her head and it died. From the state’s perspective, that is about as serious a charge as we see in Vermont.”
Vailancourt pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge. She voluntarily shut down the daycare after Harper’s death.
The daycare provider’s use of Benadryl to quiet a baby or help her sleep is not unusual. In a Today poll, one in twelve mothers admitted to dosing a child with medication (like Benadryl) in order to get them to sleep and/or get some peace and quiet.
However, the practice can be risky. According to NBC Connecticut, after a series of infant deaths related to Benadryl dosing, Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate issued a public health warning stating that antihistamines should never be used to get infants to quiet down or sleep.
The Food and Drug Administration warns that life-threatening side effects could occur when antihistamines are given to children under 2, and caution should be used when giving them to toddlers and older children.
As Dr. Gaylord Garcia of the Georgia Poison Center told Clark, it’s never a good idea to use antihistamines as a sedative for children:
“Parents think it’s safe because you don’t need a prescription, but that’s not the case. These drugs can be dangerous. Kids who have low doses can suffer from hallucinations, which is real scary for a parent. As the dose gets higher, you start worrying about tremors, convulsions and in the worst case scenario, rarely, death.”