The leading cause of infant death is preventable and it’s up to all of us to spread the word

Posted by Adrian Trenholme, Kidz First on 3 December 2014 |

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I’m going to lead off with a simple statement that may shock some of you: Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) is the biggest killer of infants in Counties Manukau every year. And now for the good news, we can prevent it.

SUDI includes cot death and accidental suffocation and is the leading cause of death in the first year of life. About 40-60 babies die from it each year in New Zealand and of these, 11 are from Counties Manukau. Maaori have five times, and Pacific nearly three times, the risk of SUDI. Although SUDI deaths are unexpected, many are able to be prevented through the use of safe sleep practices.

In my line of work hearing about the death of an infant to SUDI is heart breaking, particularly if we discover that simple safe sleep techniques weren’t being used. And while it is heart breaking for me and my team, we’re one step removed…take a minute to think about the family who has lost their baby. It could be their first child or their third or fourth, but either way it doesn’t make it any easier.

SUDI is a regional child health priority for the Northern Regional Child Health Network and a regional safe sleep policy has been agreed. Safe Sleep Day ( which is organised by Whakawhetu), and the P.E.P.E. messages are fully supported by CM Health’s Safe Sleep Governance Group.

As health professionals we have a responsibility to promote the P.E.P.E. safe sleep messages and support families to understand how to make every sleep a safe sleep for infants. Remember that, sadly, SUDI kills far more children of this age than Meningococcal Disease or non-accidental injury. We’re celebrating the nationwide Safe Sleep Day this Friday (5 December ) to raise awareness of SUDI. Please take the time to view the displays at Kidz First and Maternity, and remind your patients with young children or pregnant mums to come along for information and advice.

You can also help by reminding the families you work with about the P.E.P.E. safe sleep messages. P.E.P.E. encourages parents/caregivers to:

  • Place baby in his/ her own baby bed, face clear of bedding.
  • Eliminate smoking in pregnancy and protect baby with a smokefree whaanau, whare and waka.
  • Position baby flat on his/ her back to sleep.
  • Encourage and support mum, so baby is breastfed.

Thanks for your support. For more information, visit www.safesleepday.org.nz.

Adrian Trenholme, Paediatrician, Kidz First