New research shows woven flax bassinets are as safe as traditional bassinets.
A recent study conducted by Otago University and Otago Polytechnic has shown that woven flax bassinets or wahakura are safe, despite the Government's reluctance to fund the creation last year.
The research shows the wahakura doubles the rate of breastfeeding at six months and can be used as a safe alternative to bed sharing between a mother and child - a practice common among Maori mothers and, combined with smoking, likely to increase the risk of sudden unexplained death in infancy (SUDI), which is almost five times greater among Maori infants.
A New Zealand Herald investigation last year found coroners and health experts had supported the use of wahakura and pepi-pods as early as 2008, but the Ministry of Health had secretly restricted the reach of the devices because of safety concerns.
In 2012, the ministry tore up a contract with the organisation that was trying to roll out the sleep pods because of safety fears that were never discussed with the founder, experts, academics or coroners, the Herald found.
After the Herald's investigation was published, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman over-ruled his officials and reversed the decade-long refusal to fund the pods, calling for an urgent national roll-out of the devices.
The wahakura was designed more than a decade ago by Hastings GP David Tipene-Leach. It is meant to sit next to the mother in bed, allowing her to sleep next to her baby, while decreasing the risk of SUDI by giving the infant its own sleeping space.
Dr Tipene-Leach says this latest study proves the effectiveness of the wahakura as a culturally appropriate alternative to bed sharing.
"The wahakura is promoted to provide a separate and safer sleep space for baby that can be used in the shared bed and therefore that allows the valued close proximity for mother and baby," he said.
Researchers recruited 200 predominantly Maori pregnant women from deprived areas of New Zealand and provided the women with either a wahakura or bassinet during pregnancy.
They then compared the risks and benefits of infants sleeping in the different devices.
Mothers were asked to fill out a questionnaire when the babies were one, three and six months of age, and at one month infra-red video was used to record the baby's overnight sleep.
There were no differences in risk between the two groups and at the six-month period the wahakura group reported twice the amount of breastfeeding, when compared with the group using a traditional bassinet.
"These findings will give comfort to health workers, who will be able to confidently promote a device that encourages a form of bed-sharing that increases safety for infants," said Dr Tipene-Leach.
Whanganui District Health Board member and former minister of Whanau Ora, Dame Tariana Turia, says the research vindicates the medical professionals who advocated for the wahakura.
"The Government stopped it simply to save money while Maori babies were dying," she said.
The wahakura study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.