In an Australian first, portable safe sleeping places for babies (known as Pepi-pods) are being rolled out in Cape York in an attempt to reduce the high rates of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.
Apunipima Cape York Health Council is partnering with the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Children’s Health Queensland and Change for our Children New Zealand to roll out the Pepi-pod Program which has been shortlisted for an Australian Hesta Nursing Award.
The program, which originated in New Zealand and saw the first drop in Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) among the Maori population in a decade, sees infants (of families with known risk factors for SUDI) up to six months placed in a portable, lined container to sleep. The Pepi-pod is small enough to fit between the parents in bed, thereby enabling babies to co-sleep in their own safe place.
Program Leader and Chair of the SIDS and Kids National Scientific Advisory Group Professor Jeanine Young from USC said the pods enable safe sleeping places for babies who aren’t in cots.
‘The Pepi-pod Program is a safe sleep space combined within a targeted safe sleeping health promotion initiative for families with known risk factors for SUDI. The name originates from Pepi, which is Maori for baby, with the ‘pod’ symbolising protection of precious new life,’ Professor Young said.
‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are 3.8 times more likely to die suddenly and unexpectedly than non-Indigenous infants and we know that infant deaths are associated with co-sleeping in hazardous circumstances; particularly for preterm or low birth weight babies or where smoking, alcohol, drug use or unsafe sleep environments are present.’
‘Many Indigenous families prefer to co-sleep to ease breastfeeding and stay as close as they can to their baby – the Pepi-pods enable families to maintain this practice and keep baby safe.’
Apunipima Maternal and Child Health Team Leader Johanna Neville said the Health Worker-led program was being rolled out across seven Cape York communities, Mapoon, Napranum, Aurukun, Kowanyama, Coen, Mossman Gorge and Hopevale.
‘Maternal and Child Health Workers are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who often live in the communities we service. Health Workers have strong relationships with their clients and are ideally placed to roll out the program,’ Ms Neville said.
‘The program has three elements, the Pepi-pod which provides a zone of physical protection around the baby wherever they sleep, parent education including a ‘Rules of Protection’ safety briefing and practical safe infant sleeping information, and empowering families. Families who participate in the program are asked to make a commitment to spread what they learn about protecting sleeping babies with their friends, extended family and community.’
Established in December 2013, the Program will run for around two years with preliminary findings expected in December 2014. Expected outcomes from this project include reduced rates of SUDI amongst high risk families; original data to inform acceptable, feasible, effective and sustainable strategies that build parent, health provider and community capacity in reducing SUDI risk; increased parent and community awareness of safe sleeping recommendations and the addressing of national (Council of Australian Government) and international goals (Millennium Development Goal 4) to reduce infant and child mortality.
‘We are breaking new ground with this study - the use of portable sleep spaces to reduce the risk of SUDI for risk identified families has not been previously reported on in Australia,’ Ms Neville said.
Apunipima Pepi-pod Program Team
Program Lead: Professor Jeanine Young, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of the Sunshine Coast and Chair, SIDS and Kids National Scientific Advisory Group
Apunipima Cape York Health Council Maternal and Child Health Team: Johanna Neville, Dr Jacki Mein, Midwifery and Indigenous Health Worker Teams for Cape communities.
Ms Leanne Craigie, Senior Project Officer – Health Promotion; Children’s Health Queensland, Hospital and Health Service;
Dr Lauren Kearney, Senior Research Fellow, University of the Sunshine Coast;
Mrs Stephanie Cowan, Director, Change for Our Children, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Mrs Karen Watson, PhD Candidate, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of the Sunshine Coast
Top: Apunipima Pepi-pod Program Team
Middle: Maternal and Child Health Worker Tamara Little demonstrates how to put a baby to bed
Bottom: Safe sleeping - the doll is on it's back, under firmly tucked covers with it's feet touching the bottom of the pod