Whanganui's "unacceptable" high rate of infant deaths is reducing but too many are still dying when put down to sleep.

And Whanganui District Health Board is urging parents to put their babies to sleep in the baby's own bed, as part of Safe Sleep Day on Friday.

"We know putting babies in bed with adults can, and does, lead to deaths that are completely avoidable", says WDHB Māori Health director Rowena Kui.

"The Whanganui health sector is deeply concerned that Whanganui has the second highest rate of Sudden Unexplained Death of Infants (SUDI) in New Zealand.

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"This is unacceptably high, so we are addressing the causes and most importantly, we are making progress.

"Whanganui's SUDI rates for Māori infants have reduced from eight to six per 1000 infants, and for the total population - from nine to seven infants per 1000."

"Because it's well known that smoking also increases the risk of SUDI, it's equally concerning that the Whanganui DHB population has high smoking rates compared to the national average, that the number of young women of childbearing age who smoke is high, and that smoking is high among Māori.

"I want to see us mark Safe Sleep Day by raising awareness about the need to put our babies to sleep in their own safe sleeping space, free of pillows, soft toys and other objects that may cause unintentional suffocation.

"And, pledging to support parents to stop smoking for the sake of their babies' health and their own. These two changes alone can make a big difference to lowering the SUDI risk of our pepe" Mrs Kui said.

"To find out what's happening in Whanganui, I encourage parents and health workers to go to the Safe Sleep website www.safesleepday.org.nz and to visit the static displays set up in workplaces and health centres including Whanganui Hospital's Main Entrance where staff will be present to discuss safe sleep practices and answer questions.

"Whanganui Well Child Coalition (which includes Plunket, the New Zealand College of Midwives' Whanganui branch), Te Oranganui Iwi Health Authority, the Whanganui Regional Health Network and the WDHB are offering a number of opportunties for organisations to promote safe sleep practices."

Mrs Kui says she's delighted the WDHB is aiming to place two large billboards at its campus entrances to highlight safe sleep and raise awareness of the use of wahakura or pepi-pods on the eve of Safe Sleep Day.