Importance of flax pods pushed in bid to reduce SUDI deaths in infant Māori

Health providers, weavers and communities are coming together to promote the use of flax pods (wahakura) for infants, in a bid to reduce SUDI deaths among Māori.

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The majority of SUDI-related deaths in New Zealand are babies of Māori or Pacific background. Source: Te Karere

According to research by Hāpi Te Hauora, up to 55 babies die each year from sudden unexplained death in infancy, and up to 40 are of Māori descent.

Wānanga are being held around the country where kaupapa Māori health providers and weavers are meeting with communities in the hope of keeping wahakura sustainable for the future, Te Karere reported.

They are also looking at holding sub-tribal wānanga to teach traditional methods of raising a whānau, such as Māori-focussed birthing classes, and encouraging breast feeding.

The three main risk factors for SUDI are smoking while pregnant, bed sharing and the position of baby when sleeping.

"Not only do wahakura provide a safe sleeping space for mokopuna, these taonga draw on Māori ancestral knowledge and understandings as a means to affirm the identity and vitality of whānau,” SUDI prevention national coordination service manager Fay Selby-Law said in a statement.

“It is important that our current health care system continues to support the sustainability of wahakura, through understanding the needs of whānau, weavers and communities alike.”

Health worker Koha Aperahama said the use of wahakura had led to fewer SUDI-related deaths in Northland, but there is still a long way to go.

"How do we instill their kaupapa into all communities, in the hope wahakura are still available for the unborn," he asked Te Karere.

The first of four wānanga was held at Makaurau Marae in Ihumātāo, South Auckland, this week.