Pilot programme to help save infants

By Mike Dinsdale

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When Whangarei mum Nicole Howard found her six-month old daughter face down in her bed, she first thought the baby might be asleep - but instinct told her something was amiss.

Wee Emerina-Kaire Paki had died, another victim of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).

Nicole and her four-month old daughter Maia, are now fronting a Northland District Health Board campaign aimed at reducing the region's high SUDI rates.

A total of 60 babies are lost to SUDI each year in New Zealand, with over 10 per cent of those deaths in Northland. Of that number, Maori deaths are seven times higher than Pakeha.

On Tuesday the DHB launched a six month pilot programme known as Kohunga Aituaa Ohorere, where in partnership with parents, families and midwives it's testing the use of 50 wahakura (flax woven crib) and 50 pepi pods (a general purpose storage box that has been lined and fitted with a mattress).

For Nicole her nightmare started on November 28, 2009 when she discovered Emerina-Kaire face down.

"It's devastating to find your baby unresponsive. I was pregnant at the time with my (now) two-year-old Te Rauroha. It hit me really hard.

"I spun out of control after he was born," she said.

"I was a methamphetamine (or P) addict before I got pregnant (with Emerina-Kaire). When Te Rauroha was born I became paranoid that he would die of SUDI too. I didn't sleep and would stay beside his bassinet.

"I slipped back on methamphetamine 'cos I knew it'd keep me awake, I didn't want to fall asleep and risk losing Te Rauroha too."

She said she was saved by the child's father William, who visited one day to find her "in a mess."

Nicole has a message for anybody on drugs looking after children "Stop. Stop now and seek help, it's not good for you and it's definitely not good for your children. Our children are our most important things and we have to look after them. My children give me far more joy than anything I could ever smoke."

Pilot programme launched to help save infants

She felt honoured that the DHB asked her to get involved in the campaign and said she's got friends who still sleep with their babies, which is one of the biggest risk factors in SUDIs.

"They get complacent and think SUDI won't happen to them. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. I don't want anybody to have to go through what I went through after Emerina-Kaire died," she says.

"If me and Maia being involved in this helps bring awareness of SUDI to one other parent and it prevents one more death then Emerina-Kaire won't have died in vain and something good will have come from a horror situation.

"I hope it does help."

NDHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain said mothers considered at risk for a SUDI are usually under 25 years of age, smoke during and after pregnancy, live in a high deprivation community, are Maori and bed share with their baby on the same sleeping surface.

"SUDI death of a baby is preventable and we are determined to not only make every sleep a safe sleep for all babies but also reduce health inequities many young Maori women face," Dr Chamberlain said.

"In the last five years on average each year six Maori baby deaths have been attributed to SUDI compared to one European baby death in that same timeframe."

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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