An initiative using traditional Māori materials and methods to make a safe sleeping devices for pēpi [babies] is being heralded as a break-through initiative to combat sudden death in infancy (SUDI) in New Zealand.

A meeting at Matua Marae near Levin brought together expectant mothers to weave wahakura, a hand-woven sleeping space for babies made out of harakeke [flax] and using the tradition of rāranga.

It also gave hāpu māmā [pregnant mothers] an opportunity to share positive hauora [health] messages and to connect with other support networks during the weekend.

The wahakura is the first kaupapa Māori safe sleeping device. It is a contemporary solution to help combat Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) based on the customary practice of weaving harakeke.

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It supports Māori cultural values of co-sleeping safely to promote bonding and breastfeeding, and allowed for parents to respond instantly to babies during the first few weeks of life.

Local community groups are involved. It was the first of four wānanga planned for the MidCentral district, a partnership with Raukawa Whānau Ora, Levin Supergrans, and Barnardos, who all supported the wānanga.

Safety messages were reinforced at the wānanga, such as having a tight-fitting and firm mattress, no pillows, no toys, and to lay babies down face up. Another key feature of wahakura was its walls are well-ventilated.

Jenny Firmin, rāranga teacher, nō Whanganui, taught the wahakura to the women and their whānau, weavers and supporting professionals.

Ms Firmin had developed a method to teach the waikawa [mat] style of weaving wahakura to non-weavers, particularly whānau who are expecting a baby.

Teaching whānau how to make their own wahakura will empower whānau to create their own pathways to whānau ora or wellbeing, she said.

She said teaching whānau how to weave rather than do it for them creates further opportunities for whānau to think about how they are preparing to welcome their new baby into the world.

At the end they had produced a wahakura that reflected the aspirations of the whānau.

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Ms Firmin learnt the waikawa style of weaving wahakura from Dawn Kereru from Gisborne, in Levin at Te Kokiri in 2013, and said it was a great way to be able to give back to the community.

"I fell in love with wahakura," she said.

The tikanga (cultural practices) associated with harakeke weaving and wahakura had many similarities with pregnancy, birth and raising children. For example, Hineteiwaiwa is the goddess of both weaving and childbirth.

The harakeke plant is made up of a fan with a rito (pēpi) in the centre, surrounded by the mātua rau (parent leaf) and then the kaumātua rau (grandparent leaves).

The rito and mātua rau are always nurtured and never harvested as they ensure the future survival and wellbeing of the plant.