Sudden unexpected infant death and bedsharing: referrals to the Wellington Coroner 1997-2006

N Z Med J. 2009 Jul 3;122(1298):59-68.


Aims: To describe the factors associated with sudden unexpected infant deaths, for which there was no clear medical diagnosis, referred to the Wellington-based coronial paediatric pathology service over the decade from 1997 to 2006.

Methods: The postmortem report, Police 47 file, Coroner's findings and deceased infant's medical records were used to create a profile for each sudden and unexpected infant death.

Results: There were 64 deaths in the period: 54 of these occurred during sleep and did not have a clear medical diagnosis. Maori and Pacific infants and infants from low decile areas were over-represented in the group. The majority (88.7%) of infants were < 6 months of age at death. Overall, 50% of infants had been placed to sleep in a non-recommended sleep position and 38% usually slept in a non-recommended location. Bedsharing was associated with 53.7% of deaths. There was a significant association between bedsharing and being found dead on a Sunday morning (p=0.04).

Conclusion: Sudden unexpected death in infancy is associated with unsafe sleep environments and sleep positions. Every effort should be made to ensure that information about safe infant sleep practices reaches the caregivers of those particularly at risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Beds*
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Equipment
  • Infant Mortality / ethnology
  • Male
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / statistics & numerical data
  • New Zealand
  • Posture
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep*
  • Sudden Infant Death / epidemiology*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult