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Professor Barry Taylor addresses SIDS Conference


Chairman of Ministerial Child Mortality Review Committee addresses international cot death conference

On 26 June 2008 Professor Barry Taylor (University of Otago) addressed the SIDS 2008 Conference (in Portsmouth) on the following topic: "Interagency working in responding to unexpected child deaths: a New Zealand perspective".

Dr Taylor chairs the Minister of Health's Child Mortality Review Committee. Earlier this month Dr Taylor stated that five years of Coroners' reports showing nil cot deaths on "wrapped mattresses" in New Zealand would be required before he will even discuss official endorsement of mattress-wrapping for cot death prevention.

That is far more evidence than was required for the Ministry of Health to endorse face-up sleeping (and many babies die of cot death sleeping face-up).

In the context of the small New Zealand population, and the very small number of cot deaths (around 50 annually), sufficient information is available to reliably state that no cot death has occurred on a mattress wrapped in accordance with the nationwide publicised mattress-wrapping protocol for cot death prevention.

Dr Taylor has set a ridiculously high evidential bar to endorsement of mattress-wrapping in New Zealand, in the face of:

* 13 years of mattress-wrapping in this country

* At least 170,000 babies (at least 22% of babies) sleeping on wrapped mattresses (1)

* Nil reported cot deaths on wrapped mattresses

* By contrast, around 860 cot deaths on unwrapped mattresses (or in parallel situations) (2)

* A plummeting cot death rate since mattress-wrapping began, following static cot death rates immediately prior to mattress-wrapping (3)

Dr Taylor says that because official cot death investigations in New Zealand do not always record infant bedding, officials "don't know" whether cot deaths have occurred on wrapped mattresses.

However, that statement disregards the extensive informal reporting which occurs. Official data might not record bedding in all cases of cot death; but where it is suggested that a death might have occurred "on a wrapped mattress", for historical reasons very detailed information is made available by Coroners, Police and parents.

At no time has any cot death researcher or Ministry of Health officer (including Dr Taylor) demonstrated that a baby has died of cot death on a wrapped mattress. Each claim of a "cot death on a wrapped mattress" has been investigated (including, where appropriate, analysis of mattress wraps and/or bedding by an accredited United Kingdom analytical laboratory); and in each case the claim has been disproved.

If mattress-wrapping did not prevent cot death, by now hundreds of New Zealand babies would have died of cot death on wrapped mattresses. But during the 13 years since mattress-wrapping commenced, no such death has been reported.

In a country of only 4.3 million people, with about 50 cot deaths annually and a twelve-year public controversy over cot death prevention, it is quite impossible that "cot deaths on wrapped mattresses" would have gone unnoticed and unreported by parents, Coroners, babycare professionals, cot death researchers and the media.

For information on the New Zealand mattress-wrapping programme for cot death prevention (including publication references), click on


1. Number derived from three studies which have reported the incidence of mattress-wrapping in New Zealand: NZ Med J 2000; 113: 8-10; NZ Med J 2000; 113: 326-327; Eur J Pediatr 2008; 167(2): 251-252.

2. Source of cot death statistics: Ministry of Health.

3. The New Zealand cot death rate fell from 2.1/1000 live births in 1995 to 0.69/1000 live births in 2005. (In respect of cot deaths in 2006 and 2007, only progress counts are available.)

4. Radio New Zealand, Interview between Ms Kim Hill and Professor Peter Fleming, 8 February 2000.


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