Many baby deaths preventable: Coroner
The Chief Coroner has lamented the "many" baby deaths during the past five years that could have been prevented if safe sleeping practices had been followed.
Judge Neil MacLean made the comments in a statement introducing a new quarterly publication which summarises coroner's final findings.
Each report will contain a case study on a particular topic, with the first edition highlighting sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).
Since July 2007, coroners have found SUDI to be the cause of death in 163 cases.
There were another 30 deaths caused by asphyxiation during unsafe sleeping, prone sleeping or co-sleeping, and a further 19 cases where the cause of death was not ascertained but happened against a background of unsafe sleeping arrangements.
"This is a heartbreaking and unfortunately all too regular issue that comes before coroners," Judge MacLean said.
"It is also a tragedy that, in many cases, these babies would still be alive if people had just followed established safe sleeping practices."
Coroners' recommendations in cases involving SUDI had included better public health advice for new parents about infant safe sleeping, and that new parents be made aware of the increased SUDI risk to newborns if parents smoked.
A recommendation emphasised in the report calls for an explicit message to be given to parents that lying babies in the first year of their life on adult pillows was a hazard that increased the risk of SUDI, and should be avoided for every sleep. Also bed sharing was potentially unsafe and should be avoided.
Judge MacLean said he would like to think coroners' recommendations were being followed but it was hard to pin down.
"I think it's having some effect. We can't take the credit for all of it. Other people have been saying similar things," he said.
In the past there had been mixed messages about whether it was all right for babies to sleep in bed with other family members, but that was becoming less of a problem.
Historically it had been common for babies to sleep with other family members in many parts of the world, Judge MacLean said.
Breast feeding in bed could also be an issue if an exhausted mother fell asleep and put her baby at risk of suffocation.
It was generally accepted that wherever possible breast feeding should be encouraged, but it needed to be done in a safe environment.
Authors of a recent article in the New Zealand Medical Journal estimated 3000 cot deaths had been prevented in this country, after changes to recommendations about babies' sleeping positions.
The number of cases annually had declined from 219 in 1985 to 50.
The authors called for more emphasis to be put on advising parents about the risks of bed sharing with their babies.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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