Fewer babies dying in their sleep

4 Dec 2015 | Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee

The number of babies dying suddenly in their sleep continues to fall.

Figures just released from the Health Quality & Safety Commission for 2014 show 40 babies died in 2014 from SUDI or sudden, unexpected death in infancy. On average, there were 47 deaths per year in the five years to 2014.

The 10th Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee data report released earlier this year indicated that almost half of SUDI deaths are due to accidental suffocation.

Over the past five years, there have been 42 fewer SUDI deaths among Māori families and 34 fewer deaths among non-Māori babies, compared to the five years to 2009.

“It is heartening that reductions are being seen among Māori families, who have been most affected by the sudden unexpected death of their babies,” says Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee Chair Dr Felicity Dumble.

“The reduction in the toll is thought to be thanks to the concerted efforts of health professionals and communities in sharing advice about how to keep babies safe while sleeping and making sure that every baby has a safe place to sleep,” says Chief Advisor Child and Youth Health, Dr Pat Tuohy.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission is pleased that in recent years district health boards (DHBs) have worked to ensure safe sleep policies are in place, staff are up-to-date with safe sleep messaging and modelling of safe sleeping practices occurs with all infants in DHB facilities.

This year the Government boosted efforts to reduce SUDI deaths with an additional $800,000 given to DHBs to reduce SUDI and address associated risk factors.

There’s also a greater push from Well Child Tamariki Ora providers and SUDI prevention support organisations, Whakawhetu and TAHA, to ensure they get appropriate advice to families with young babies.

Latest figures show 60 percent of New Zealand families have infant sleep arrangements checked for safety and safe sleep information provided in the first seven weeks of life by a Well Child Tamariki Ora Provider.

“Additional concerted effort now to make sure that every family is reached in a timely way will pay real dividends, saving more lives in the future,” says Dr Tuohy. The Ministry of Health is working with DHBs and Well Child Tamariki Ora providers to ensure that every family is reached and provided with the information and support they need to keep their baby safe.

Today (4 December) is Safe Sleep day and it is timely to remind the public of safe sleep advice for babies.

Safe sleeping advice includes:

  • babies are safest when sleeping in their own cot or bassinet, in the same room as their parents for the first six months of their lives 
  • if parents choose to sleep in bed with their baby, their baby should be placed in their own baby bed beside them – for example, in a pepi-pod® or wahakura. It is never safe to put your baby to sleep in an adult bed, on a couch or on a chair. 
  • putting babies to sleep on their backs so they can breathe unobstructed, and making sure there is no bedding nearby that might cover their faces. 
  • remove suffocation hazards such as pillows or loose blankets. 
  • ensure there are no gaps in their bed in which they might become wedged 
  • make sure babies live in a smokefree environment 
  • ensure the person looking after a baby is sober and alert to their needs.

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Last updated 08/06/2016