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Whānau embrace flax bassinets

June 23, 2014
The wahakura appeal to contemporary Maori whanau.

The wahakura appeal to contemporary Maori whanau.

Key findings from an EIT wahakura qualitative study are to feed into a  wider study exploring Māori safe sleep innovations for infants.

New Zealand has the highest rate for any sudden and unexpected infant death (SUDI) – explained or unexplained – in the industrial world. In this country, it is the main cause of post neonatal mortality in children aged up to one year.

Māori continue to be grossly overrepresented in SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) death figures. Researchers David Tipene-Leach and Sally Abel say that’s because the primary risk for SIDS is now bed-sharing with an infant who was exposed to maternal smoking in pregnancy.

“Half of Māori mothers are smokers, many of whom sleep with their infants, and therein lies the problem.”

Heading a four-member research team, GP for Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga Dr Tipene-Leach and EIT senior research fellow Dr Abel undertook a one-year qualitative study, funded by Lotteries Health Research Commitee and EIT research grants, that focused on the wahakura – a bassinet-like structure woven from flax (harakeke) and modelled on the traditional porakaraka or puranga pou.

A key finding was that the wahakura’s cultural, historical and spiritual associations and practicality particularly appealed to contemporary Māori whānau. The woven
bassinets were often used in situations that might otherwise have been risky for sudden infant death.

Mothers using wahakura found it easy to apply safe sleep rules. The study also identified its usefulness as a means of engaging Māori women in the antenatal period and for effectively conveying infant health promotion methods.

The findings will be incorporated into those from the Kahungunu infant safe sleep (KISS) study, a Hawke’s Bay quantitative study by University of Otago researchers.

Encompassing 200 women, this broader study aims to compare safety and other features of the wahakura with the standard bassinet.