Twenty-five infants in the Manawatu between 2002-2011 have suffered from sudden unexpected death.

Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is described as unexpected death during sleep, which a recent campaign aimed to raise awareness of.

Last Friday was the inaugural National Safe Sleep Day, an initiative which aims to promote safe sleep practices for babies and reduce SUDI cases.

A display manned by neonatal staff was set up in the foyer of the Palmerston North hospital to provide information about the issue for mothers.


"It's about keeping our babies safe. We want to make sure that all families understand the risks and know what to do to protect their babies while they sleep," said neonatal registered nurse Janette Williams.

There are around 65 SUDI deaths each year in New Zealand and 60 per cent of these deaths occur through overlaying, where the infant is unable to breathe due to a co-sleeper obstructing their air intake. About 60 per cent of nationwide SUDI deaths are Maori infants, which is reflective of the cultural need to sleep close to babies, said Ms Williams.

At present, all new mothers discharged from hospital are given information about safe sleep, but MidCentral DHB is in the process of putting together a committee for SUDI, which will come into action next year. This will put the spotlight on ways to prevent SUDI, and get those implemented in the hospital. Hawke's Bay and Horowhenua already have such a committee and have had flax pods and pepi-pods made and distributed for newborns.

Plunket have similarly been involved in getting the safe sleep message across to the many mothers they interact with, providing them with leaflets and advice on the subject.

"Ensuring every baby has a safe sleep, every time they sleep, will dramatically reduce the number of SUDI cases in New Zealand," said Plunket clinical advisor Jess Beauchamp.

In 2012 the infant mortality rate was at its lowest ever, an indication that the safe sleep message is getting through, but parents are still urged to take caution when putting their baby to sleep.


-Place infant to sleep on their back.
-When asleep, ensure infant's face is free from hazards that can lead to suffocation.
-Ensure infant sleeps in their own bed.
-Infants can get distressed when overheated - avoid too many layers.
-Ensure infant's bed is free of gaps that could trap or wedge.