Story: Te whānau tamariki – pregnancy and birth

Page 4. Baby care, 20th and 21st centuries

All images & media in this story

Birth figures

In 2015 just over 61,000 babies were born in New Zealand. 28% were Māori.  The same year the Māori fertility rate was 2.50 per woman, compared to an overall rate of 1.99. Māori women had their babies at a younger age then women of other ethnic groups. They were more likely to have a natural birth, without intervention such as a caesarean section, and less likely to have pain relief such as an epidural anaesthetic.


The incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is particularly high for Māori babies. A lot of work has been done in Māori communities to lower the figures, alerting people to the risk factors for SIDS, and how to prevent it, for example not smoking around the baby, and not putting babies to sleep on their stomachs. There was a 25% drop in Māori SIDS in 1997. However the Māori figures were still disproportionately high in the 21st century. Between 2008 and 2012, 100 out of 162 infants who died from SIDS were Māori.


A wahakura is a woven sleeping bassinet for a baby up to six months of age, based on a traditional design, which has been revived for modern use by Māori doctor David Tipene-Leach. A wahakura is made using the traditional art of raranga (weaving). Maori parents can maintain the cultural tradition of keeping their babies with them in bed, but provide a protected space for a baby. Sleeping in the same bed as young babies puts them at greater risk of SIDS.

Medical access

In 1937 only 17% of Māori births took place in hospital, but by 1947 it was around 50%. By 1959 the proportion of Māori births occurring in hospital had risen to about 90%, and the figure continued to increase.

Hospitals were increasingly sensitive to Māori practices, such as keeping the whenua, and hospital births became more popular.

There are a number of Māori midwives who work individually, or as collectives. Midwives have a national collective, Ngā Maia o Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu.

How to cite this page:

Hope Tupara, 'Te whānau tamariki – pregnancy and birth - Baby care, 20th and 21st centuries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by Hope Tupara, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2017