he sad tale of the death of a five-month Wellington baby of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) reported this morning is the exact reason iwi in the Midland Region are being issued safe sleep devices.
An infant died tragically in the same way at a Ngati Haua marae (Kai a te Mata marae) in 2011, meaning that Ngati Haua and Hauraki be the first iwi to receive the sleep devices from Waikato District Health Board in a Midland Region roll-out to marae.
Waikato DHB’s Maori Health Service (Te Puna Oranga) general manager Ditre Tamatea said the death highlighted the need for the safe sleep model his team have developed and rolled out through 25 different partnerships throughout the Midland Region.
The devices going into marae are called pepi-pods and wahakura. The pepi-pod is a portable baby sized bed and includes a cover, fitted mattress, sheets and a merino blanket. The wahakura is the same concept, but made of natural materials; namely flax.
The beds are designed for safe co-sleeping of parents and their babies.
“SUDI particularly impacts Maori with approximately 80 per cent of the babies in New Zealand who die from it, being of Maori heritage,” said Mr Tamatea.
A recent report released by Change for Children has highlighted that SUDI rates within the five Midland DHBs (Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Tairawhiti and Taranaki) has dropped to a similar level to other regions which do not have the same proportion of high needs babies being born.
While Mr Tamatea said the introduction of pepi-pods can’t be pinpointed as the reason for the declining rates, he believes it has contributed and says the safe sleep efforts being made by various agencies throughout New Zealand are making a difference, regardless.
Waikato DHB clinical midwife specialist Alys Brown said babies most at risk of SUDI are the target to receive these devices. They are those who are:
- exposed to smoke during pregnancy
- born at a low birth weight
- Maori and Pacific
- born before 36 weeks gestation; and
- from households where there is drug and alcohol use.
Te Puna Oranga has led the Pepi-Pod Programme in Waikato, in conjunction with the Midland Maternity Action Group, and has worked in partnership with the other DHBs across the Midland area.
Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa is one of the organisations contracted by Waikato DHB to distribute wahakura and they have held a series of wananga at local marae about safe sleep; the latest of which was last month at Matai Whetu marae in Thames.
They are leaving wahakura behind at each marae as they go, if they’re needed.
“We are taking an ora (wellbeing) approach, a whanau approach, a holistic approach that looks after the wellbeing of the mother, the baby and other family members as well,” said Te Runanga Smokefree coach Reweti Hapi.
Mr Reweti said the health messages of the wananga are clear:
- Sleep babies face up and face clear
- The importance of breastfeeding
- Smokefree homes and environments
- The importance of immunisation
- Gentle handling of infants and children
- The benefits of having babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first six months of their lives
Renowned weaver, creator of wahakura and supporter of safe sleep Betty Brown, said the practice of raranga (weaving) is an old one and a focus of the wananga is also handing down the whakapapa, those skills and traditions – with the ultimate goal to protect all babies.
“Safe sleep practices need to become the norm in the long-term but in the short-term, we are focusing on our high risk whanau,” said Mr Tamatea.
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