The Ministry of Health is ignoring cultural needs by not funding sleeping pods, or woven baskets, for the babies of at-risk families, says the Māori Women’s Welfare League.
About 50 babies, more than half Māori, die in their sleep each year.
Most are accidentally suffocated by their parents while sleeping in the same bed.
The Ministry of Health has decided not to fund the baskets, called wahakura, which babies can be placed in if they are co-sleeping.
Researcher sure pepi pods save lives
A simple woven basket that allows babies to safely sleep in the same bed as their parents can save lives, an internationally renowned expert on cot death says.
Auckland University professor of child health research Ed Mitchell hoped newly published research by his team just last month would encourage the government to fund sleeping baskets, or wahakura, to all at-risk babies.
Between 40 to 50 babies, most of them Maori, died in their sleep each year. More than half were accidentally suffocated by their parents while sleeping in the same bed.
A New Zealand Herald investigation showed plans to provide wahakura to the most at-risk babies was secretly shelved by the Ministry of Health.
That was because the ministry was not convinced they were effective in reducing deaths, Professor Mitchell said.
“But I believe that our recent publication really convincingly shows that the mortality rate has come down and it can be attributed to the Safe Sleep programme and the wahakura or pepi pod,” he said.
The Auckland University study assessed the Safe Sleep programme which had been running in parts of the country since 2009.
“We are quite convinced that they are actually saving lives,” he said.
Only quarter of at-risk babies received a sleeping basket, he said.
The ministry’s refusal to fund wahakura was “hard nosed,” he said.
“They will cost money. It’s probably a cost of about $1.5 million per year to actually get these pepi pods to every baby that needs them, but that’s really quite insignificant when we consider how many lives it could save,” he said.
Green Party Māori development spokesperson Marama Davidson said the government was turning its back on a solution which could save lives.
“By denying families wahakura and pepi pods, the government is stigmatising the traditional parenting practice of co-sleeping and marginalising families who are doing the right thing by their culture.
“What many New Zealand families need is more bonding and support, not less,” said Ms Davidson.
However the Ministry of Health said additional investment in wahakura would depend on more evidence proving their effectiveness.
It said government-funded research into the area was yet to be published and one unpublished study in Counties Manukau District Health Board found no additional benefit from their use.
The ministry’s chief child health advisor Pat Tuohy said the government funded $1.3 million a year in cot death prevention, of which two thirds were spent on services targeting Maori.
He said the best advice was to have a smokefree pregnancy and environment for the baby, put them to sleep in their own cot and to breastfeed.