Collective action needed to further reduce sudden infant deaths

2 Dec 2016 | Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee

Around 3000 lives have been saved in the past 20 years because of efforts to prevent sudden unexpected death in infants (SUDI).

Although New Zealand rates for SUDI have improved, they remain among the highest in the industrialised world, with rates for Māori disproportionately high compared with non-Māori.

Latest mortality review data from the Health Quality & Safety Commission shows that in 2015, 44 babies died from SUDI before their first birthday.

Dr Felicity Dumble, chair of the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee, says it is important for all New Zealanders to work together to prevent SUDI.

‘National Safe Sleep Day is a reminder for all of us to consider how we can work together to prevent SUDI. SUDI prevention is the responsibility of parents, whānau, health and social service providers and policy makers - everyone has a part to play,’ says Dr Dumble.

She says health and social service providers in particular have an important part to play in promoting culturally appropriate services for whānau and families so babies grow up in a smokefree household, with a safe sleep space where they are placed to sleep on their backs.

Dr Sue Belgrave, chair of the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, says it is critical that whānau and families have access to consistent safe sleep messages, early on in pregnancy, and from all service providers.

‘Early enrolment with lead maternity carers offers important opportunities for health providers to raise awareness about safe sleep practices and support mothers’ access to care by connecting them with other agencies and programmes across and beyond the health sector,’ she says.

Key things all those responsible for caring for a baby can do to prevent SUDI include:

  • putting babies to sleep on their backs so they can breathe unobstructed
  • making sure there is no loose bedding which might cover babies faces during sleep
  • avoid using pillows, remove any cords from bedding, and ensure there are no gaps in the bed in which babies might become wedged and make breathing hard or impossible
  • make sure babies live and sleep in environments that are totally smoke free at all times, from the beginning of pregnancy and after birth
  • encourage or support breastfeeding
  • ensure the room is not too hot, so babies will not overheat (same temperature as an adult)
  • babies are safest when sleeping in their own safe sleep device (eg, cot, bassinet, Wahakura, Pepi-pod®) in the same room as their parents for the first six months of their lives
  • babies must be free from other people who might overlay them – sleep arrangements need to make sure that if someone else moves while sleeping, the baby will still be able to breathe easily with a clear airway
  • ensure the person looking after a baby is sober and alert to their needs
  • regularly evaluating safe sleep spaces – through safe sleep assessments conducted by parents, caregivers, whānau, lead maternity carers and Well Child/Tamariki Ora.

For more about National Safe Sleep Day, visit

You can read more about the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee at, including its special report into Unintentional suffocation, foreign body inhalation and strangulation, and the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee at

Last updated 02/12/2016