Northland babies at high risk of SUDI

Northland has one of the highest rates for SUDI (Sudden Infant Death in Infancy) in New Zealand and a team of local health representatives are working to rectify that.

The Northland DHB have partnered up with Whakawhetu National SUDI Prevention for Maori and held a hui in Kaitaia last week to push the Kohunga Aituaa Ohorere project vision of making every sleep a safe sleep for all infants.

Whakawhetu National SUDI Prevention project support spokesperson June Hilton-Jones was one of the speakers at the meeting, where families most at risk were invited to attend, and pointed out that Maori babies have the highest risk.

“Every year 60 babies in New Zealand die of SUDI. From all those 60 babies, Maori represent the biggest chunk of that pie. From that 60, in Northland we know 3.4-3.5 babies for every 1000 live births will die from SUDI. That represents, in real terms, seven babies to one non-Maori baby.”

The risk profile for a SUDI includes mothers who are living in a high-deprivation community, are Maori, under 25 years of age, who smoke during and after pregnancy, who have premature babies, who bed share and those who have experienced a previous SUDI.

P.E.P.E. is the acronym being used to reinforce safety measures to ensure babies have a safe sleep. P.E.P.E. stands for Place baby in his or her own baby bed, Eliminate smoking in pregnancy – in the whanau and in the home, Position baby on his or her back to sleep and Encourage and support mum – so baby is breastfed.

As part of the campaign, at-risk mums are offered a pepi-pod or Wahakura to help reduce SUDI by providing a safe sleep space when babies sleep in or on an adult bed, a couch or away from home.

The pepi-pod is a simple storage box that converts to a baby bed when fitted with an attractive cover, fitted mattress and full set of bedding.

The wahakura is a woven bed hand-made from flax with an open weave so is naturally ventilated to allow airflow to regulate temperature around the baby.

Mrs Hilton-Jones said that Maori babies die unnecessarily and that can be changed by providing a safe sleep place.

“Entwined in every piece of flax is the message of how we keep our babies safe. Every baby is worth saving. It doesn’t have to be flash, it just has to be a safe sleep space – every sleep, every place,” she said, quoting one of the campaign’s slogans”.

Kaitaia midwife JudyAnn Cooze and supporter of the project, who attended the meeting and recently returned after working in Australia for 24 years, said she was overwhelmed by the horrifying conditions and statistics.

“To see the deprivation that some of our whanau live in was really an awakening for me.

Everywhere I looked there was a need and I thought ‘I’ve just got to put my big-girl pants on and step in’ and thought ‘this just isn’t right – how does this happen in a developed country?”

She went onto say it was a disheartening job because, while those most at risk were willing to receive, they were not willing to participate.

“The people who need it the most aren’t here today and in order for our message to flow on, all of you here today need to take that message back to your whanau and say this is for us as individuals, as a collective iwi in this area”, JudyAnn said.

“We have to own this. This belongs to us and why does this belong to us? Because the tamariki are our future.  Our statistics up here in Kaitaia are real. Ask any midwife and they will tell you this is not a fairy story – this is real life and this is happening every day. Our young people, our babies are in need.”

JudyAnn and June are taking the safe sleep space – every sleep, every place message on the road over the next few months visiting towns in the mid north. 

Joy Wikitera Raranga Roopu checking our weave of the Wahakura.

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