A calculator has been developed to predict the chances of a baby dying in its sleep and to bring down the number of infants passing away suddenly.
Every year about 50 New Zealand families lose a child to Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI). Christine McIntosh, a South Auckland GP and University of Auckland researcher, has helped create the Safe Sleep Calculator - a tool to help prevent infant deaths.
Dr McIntosh told Nine to Noon the calculator measured the complex risk factors associated with SUDI - including bed sharing, premature birth, low birth weight, sleep position and maternal smoking - and provided a risk profile to parents based on this data.
She said "vulnerable babies" had a combination of these risk factors as well as an unsafe sleep situation that could lead to a lethal situation.
The Safe Sleep Calculator helped GPs or practice nurses ask the right questions to find out a child's risk level so they could let the family know what changes had to be made to keep the baby safe.
The calculator could also determine the likelihood these risk factors could lead to an infant dying, Dr McIntosh said.
"You know there's not many conditions that we deal with in general practice where the person in front of you has a risk of dying in the next year of one in 100, or one in 50, and when it is a baby that is even more confronting.
"It's about the person in front of that family being able to interpret the information and give the family some really useful sort of things they can do to keep the baby safe, which will often be about making sure the baby sleeps in its own baby bed, for every sleep, on its back."
She said New Zealand had led the way in research on SUDI in the late 1980s and early 90s, with a 60 percent dropoff in the general population of deaths attributable to SUDI. However, the rates for Maori and Pacific Island children had not fallen correspondingly.
"What we saw... is that just simply changing the babies position and saying that babies should sleep on their backs made a huge difference to the rates of SUDI at that time.
"What we have recently seen in the last five years is actually we are getting another further drop, and that has really been about making sure that babies are sleeping safely," Dr McIntosh said.
Of the approximately 50 deaths from SUDI per year, about six were attributable to factors the Safe Sleep Calculator could not measure - such as heart conditions. However, the remainder had factors that the calculator could measure, and hopefully help to prevent.
Testing on the calculator would continue for the six months with regional and national rollout sometime after that.