A novel way to tackle the shocking rate of sudden death in babies is being piloted in Hawke's Bay.
The Back your Baby campaign, launched yesterday, comes days before the release of a report by the chief coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, that says there have been 163 cases of sudden unexplained deaths in infants (SUDI) in the five years between July 2007 and last month.
The campaign will see new parents sent regular text messages informing them of safe ways for their babies to sleep.
Hawke's Bay District Health Board safe sleep researcher David Tipene-Leach said the campaign was the latest attempt to address high rates of sudden unexplained infant death.
In the 2009/10 year there were nine deaths in Hawke's Bay due to poor sleeping arrangements or co-sleeping with parents.
"This was certainly out of kilter with the rest of the country," Dr Tipene-Leach said.
In response, in 2010 the board introduced pepi-pods - bassinet-like items that allowed babies to safely sleep in bed with their parents. The pepi-pods have since been adopted by Waikato and Counties-Manakau DHBs.
Dr Tipene-Leach said that 20 years ago there were about 250 sudden unexplained infant deaths a year nationally.
The push to ensure babies slept on their backs had reduced the number of deaths dramatically, but deaths among Maori babies did not reduce as much.
"Of the original 250, about 100 were Maori. That number's come down to about 50, but the non-Maori deaths have come down about 90 per cent, so there's a disparity," Dr Tipene-Leach said.
A later study found that smoking in pregnancy doubled the risk of death when bed-sharing.
Less-affluent people were less inclined to listen to stop-smoking or co-sleeping messages, he said.
About 21 per cent of Maori mothers with babies smoked and bed-shared whereas just 1 per cent of Pakeha mothers were doing both, he said.
Judge MacLean said that of the 163 cases of SUDI, 30 were found to be caused by asphyxiation due to unsafe sleeping arrangements such as co-sleeping or sleeping on their stomach. In 19 cases the cause of death could not be ascertained conclusively, but there was a background of co-sleeping or "tummy sleeping".
In the other 114 cases pathologists could not pinpoint a reason for death.
A report to be released in the next few days on all coroners' findings in the last quarter of 2011 will note the number of sudden unexplained infant deaths, and will include the recommendations regularly made by coroners when reporting on them, Judge MacLean said.
Parents are told to keep babies face up, keep their faces clear, keep them in smoke-free environments and breastfeed if possible.
Researchers said this week that the lives of 3075 babies were saved between 1990 and 2008 because of the change in recommended infant sleep position, from the stomach to the side and then to the back.
The Back your Baby pilot campaign kicked off in Hawke's Bay yesterday.
It uses text messaging to send safe sleep messages to new parents.
Parents sign up at no cost by texting "BYB" to 4040, or by filling in a form.
They then receive 20 messages for nine weeks, with the first arriving at 10am on the day after they sign up. They can opt out at any time.
Midwives and hospital staff will tell parents about the programme.
Those signing up get a free pair of baby socks.
Texting was seen as an effective way to reach the target audience, particularly Maori and Pacific parents.
Pamphlets, posters and advertisements have been used overseas to spread safe-sleep messages but were not considered as effective as text messaging. They were also much more expensive.
The pilot campaign is aimed at Hawke's Bay parents but others elsewhere will be able to sign on.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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