The perils of sharing a bed

Too many people don’t read beyond the headlines. Mrs Grumble tends to be one of them, which is why Alf hopes she reads on and gets more detail when she spots

Many deaths linked to sharing bed

It’s all about cot deaths.

More than half of cot-death babies were sharing a bed when they died, new research shows.

The Otago University research, soon to be published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, has prompted calls for parents to get unequivocal information that sleeping with a baby is dangerous.

However, some Maori, midwives and researchers say the practice is positive for breast-feeding and bonding.

Presumably these Maori, midwives and researchers encourage practices which the Otago researchers find are decidedly unhealthy for babies.

The report tells us that a senior paediatric lecturer with Otago University’s Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr Dawn Elder, was one of the lead researchers on the investigation.

Her research showed bed-sharing was associated with almost 54 per cent of cot deaths, known as sudden infant deaths (SIDs) or sudden unexpected deaths in infants, in Wellington between 1997 and 2006.

There was a significant association between bed-sharing and babies being found dead on a Sunday morning, the research showed. Alcohol consumption could be a factor in this, Elder said.

The report mentions the work of Wellington Coroner Garry Evans, who this month released inquest findings into the deaths of seven Wellington babies who were sharing a bed with an adult or had been put to bed in an “unsafe sleeping environment”.

Evans, who has condemned bed-sharing as a deadly practice in at least 15 other cases during the past eight years, is calling on the director-general of health to issue stronger warnings on the risks involved.

He wants the Health Ministry to ensure public health educators and health professionals back the message, and has recommended that the Government support schemes to ensure every baby has a cot.

In a report to Evans, Auckland University child-health professor Ed Mitchell said the official message against bed-sharing had been “so soft that it is not heard”.

Some doctors, midwives and Plunket nurses had been “actively promoting” bed-sharing.

So how come the ministry doesn’t come up with tougher bed-sharing guidelines.

According to Ed Mitchell, it’s

because the ministry did not want to “upset or antagonise” people, particularly Maori and Pacific Islanders, for whom bed-sharing was a cultural norm.

Good grief.

The ministry, obviously, would have taken a very delicate approach to stamping out cannibalism (assuming there were sufficient health concerns to justify its intervention).

But Alf wonders what this regard for cultural norms would mean if tobacco had been indigenous to New Zealand (a taonga, no less), and if smoking was a cultural norm for the tangata whenua.

Or if hamburgers, French fries, fizzy drinks and pies were Maori creations, and – again – consuming them was a cultural norm for them…

Are we really to believe that, in those circumstances, the crackdown on smoking would never have happened and that the Food Nazis would not now be gunning for fast foods in their grim war against obesity?

Does it mean we should tolerate female circumcision, a cultural norm among some people who have settled in New Zealand?

Or are some cultural norms to be treated differently from other cultural norms when it comes to formulating health policy?

Oh, and if Maori are to demand a closing of the gap between their life expectancy and Pakeha life expectancy, but cultural norms are a factor impeding progress– what then?

Alf will wander down to the club later in the day and line up a whisky. Yep. He knows what it might be doing to his liver. But at least he has the information. What he does with it is up to him.

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