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Protecting our babies from SIDS in the heat

Today we have good understanding of the safety measures that can prevent SIDS. However, as SONYA PALMER says, it’s important we consistently put these in place, especially as we head into a hot summer. By Kate Barber

In the early 1990s Sonya lost her daughter Kali to SIDS, a tragic circumstance that in course led to her working for SIDS and Kids New Zealand where she supports other families who have experienced loss and helps educate parents on how to best protect their babies from SIDS.

SUDI stands for Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy, and this includes SIDS – where no cause of death can be found. From 2000, the rates of SUDI have decreased each year. However, it remains the leading cause of preventable mortality in New Zealand infants. In 2018 – the last year for which we have complete data – there were 38 deaths from SUDI including 25 from SIDS.

According to Plunket, “The main risk factors for SUDI include smoking while pregnant, bed-sharing in an unsafe way and the position of your baby when they’re sleeping.”

Today we have a better understanding of protective measures that can prevent these deaths, says Sonya. “When we lost Kali, none of the recommendations to reduce the risks were around.” She takes heart knowing that the work she does is helping reduce the risks to other Kiwi babies.


It is crucial babies don’t overheat while asleep, says Sonya. Heading into summer, she reminds parents about the best ways to keep their babies safe.

  • Sleep baby in their own safe sleep space in the parent’s or caregiver’s room for the first six months; and provide a safe sleeping environment during the day including when out and about.
  • Babies control their temperature predominantly through their face and head so it’s important to sleep baby on their back with their head and face uncovered.
  • Dress baby as you would yourself – comfortably warm, not hot or cold. The best way to check your baby’s temperature is by feeling their back or tummy, which should feel warm. Sonya reminds parents not to worry if their feet or hands feel cold, as this is normal.
  • A safe sleeping bag, with fitted neck and sleeves and no hood, is a good option. If using bed clothes, use layers of lightweight blankets that can be added or removed easily, and tuck these in firmly.
  • The bed should always be made up so baby is at the foot of the cot and blankets can only rise as far as baby’s chest.
  • Remove baby’s bonnet/hat as soon as you go indoors or enter a warm car, bus or train, even if this means waking the baby.
  • Never use electric blankets, wheat bags or hot water bottles for babies.
  • Never leave a baby to sleep in a car unattended.

SIDS and Kids New Zealand

Established in 1994 SIDS and Kids New Zealand is a national organisation that offers support services to those affected by the death of a child who dies suddenly and unexpectedly regardless of the cause of death. They also provide information on Safe Sleeping and raise vital awareness about Safe Sleeping and preventing fatal sleeping accidents. SIDS and Kids New Zealand is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 164 455. Services are provided free of charge.

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