A 30-year-old Sydney woman has been charged with trying to kill her newborn son by abandoning him in a roadside drain for five days before passers-by heard his cries.
The week-old baby was in serious but stable condition in Westmead Children's Hospital a day after cyclists found him in an eight-foot-deep drain beside the M7 motorway in the suburb of Quakers Hill.
His mother, Saifale Nai, did not appear in court to answer the attempted murder charge. Her lawyer did not enter a plea and the magistrate formally refused her bail.
Ms Nai would face a potential maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted.
"Police will allege that the baby, believed to have been born on November 17, was placed into the drain on Tuesday," police said.
Andrew Pesce, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, said such an ordeal could leave a newborn with long-term problems such as brain damage.
"There would still have to be some concerns," 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 have reserves to cope with relative malnutrition and often lose 10pc of their birth weight because their mothers can take a few days before producing sufficient milk.
Helen Polley, a senator in the opposition Labour Party, said the near-tragedy could have been avoided if emergency hatches were rolled out at Australian hospitals and police and fire stations where babies could be safely abandoned.
Cyclists riding along a lane beside the motorway heard the baby on Sunday morning.
"We thought it was a kitten at first, but when we went down there we could hear exactly what it was - a baby screaming," said cyclist David Otte.
It took six men to lift the 200kg concrete lid that covered the drain. Police suspect the baby was squeezed through its narrow opening and dropped to the bottom.