A coronial inquest has pinpointed breast milk as a factor in the death of a 2-month-old baby who died with alcohol in her body. Former Woman's Refuge boss Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is surprised but thankful, we don't hear of more cases.


I know better than to rush to condemn Janice Tua the mother of the 2-month old baby girl Sapphire, who breastfed her baby in the early morning of New Year's day 2017 after binge drinking during the day.

Well, I call drinking 18 cans of premix bourbon and coke binge drinking.

The Coroner's report into Sapphire's death has just been released. Apparently this is an unusual case.


Paediatrician Dr. Alison Leversha hasn't seen a case of an infant dying of alcohol poison through breast milk before.

I am surprised, but thankful, we don't see more cases like this.

When you know how some families are living, barely getting by, you start to understand the escapism alcohol provides.

Never an excuse but just what we see every day in New Zealand. We have become a country of haves and have nots. I would put this family squarely in the latter category.

The mother probably in her early 20s, already had 5 children under 6 years of age before Sapphire and her twin sister Honey came along.

They were born pre-term with low birth weights and related medical issues. Tua and her partner were homeless waiting for Housing New Zealand to find them a house.

Good luck on that score, join the queue of thousands. In the meantime, they have been staying with family in Ahipara with probably little or not enough money coming into the household to cover the basics of life.

Whanau Ora workers know hundreds of families live in these circumstances every day.


And we do know that for every family struggling to survive there is another family member, immediate or extended, who would step up and start to transform the family if supported to do so.

Someone who is trusted, someone who will call bad behaviour exactly what it is in many instances, neglect. Someone who will need to be resourced whether for training or skills development in how to handle the high and multiple needs of their family.

Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait on the alcohol related death of a baby. Photo / Supplied.
Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait on the alcohol related death of a baby. Photo / Supplied.

The go to person. The one who knows the family members full of BS. I believe it is family intervention by those who know what's at stake, their own whakapapa, that can turn things around.

The young mother did not start to drink since she had her twins. She would not have been drinking on her own. If all we can do is blame and point the finger, then nothing much will change.

Families are the key. Change the families and another more positive picture will start to emerge.

It won't happen overnight. It calls for strong whanau leadership and sustained commitment. It calls for a Whanau Ora approach to social service delivery, by those who can get a foot in the door, to work closely with high risk families. Who are easily identifiable.

We could concentrate on educating and encouraging young mothers in particular to stop drinking while pregnant and while breastfeeding.

That's the easy part.

How about we recognise the emerging class of families facing lives of insecurity and hopelessness and start working on giving their lives meaning too.

It shouldn't take the death of little Sapphire to get us all riled up.

Her death was entirely preventable.

You know it and so do I.