The most common cause of death in the first year of life is Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI). Nearly half of these deaths are due to accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed and many could have been prevented if the babies were put to sleep safely.
A graph showing causes of death for infants under one year old.
To help reduce these deaths, South Island DHBs adopted a Safe Sleep Policy for infants, from birth to six months. An audit tool was also developed to measure implementation of the policy and support any improvements – and West Coast DHB is leading the way.
West Coast DHB was the first South Island DHB to complete its three month audit of the policy’s implementation. The DHB provides information and models the best safe sleeping practices to young families, as well as smoking cessation advice and breastfeeding support. Resources such as safe beds and pepi pods are also discussed.
The policy ensures DHB health professionals have the necessary skills and resources to provide safe sleeping arrangements within its facilities; and consistent verbal and written advice about safe sleeping. This includes auditing between five and 10 infants every three months in both maternity and paediatric units, ensuring all relevant documentation is current, and that staff are well trained in supporting safe sleep.
Safe sleep is about ensuring baby sleeps on their back, on a firm surface with their face clear of anything that can make it hard to breathe, and in their own bed for every sleep. Babies also develop best and have lower risk of still birth or death if the pregnancy was smoke-free and if the home environment is kept smoke-free after birth.
West Coast DHB Acting Clinical Midwifery Manager Linda Monk says staff are very supportive of the audits and it’s a great way of making sure safe sleep is a high priority. “One of the reasons it’s working so well is that we’ve delegated someone to carry the audits out.”
The South Island Safe Sleep Policy Audit Working Group was established by the South Island Child Health Service Level Alliance (CH SLA) to develop the audit tools. The Safe Sleep Policy was endorsed by all the South Island DHB CEOs and implemented across the South Island.
The group has gained a significant amount of knowledge from the tool, says South Island Safe Sleep Policy Audit Working Group Chair, Dr Nick Baker. “It’s been excellent to see DHBs implement the policy and audit safe sleep practices. The results of the audit will help support improvement and effectiveness of the policy. Parents and caregivers have a right to know about keeping babies safe from preventable death, and the policy and audits are a powerful tool to help make safe care routine care – every baby, every sleep.”