Baby box campaign for safe sleep a Jersey hit

Two weeks after New Jersey announced it was the first state to embark on an effort to make safe-sleep baby boxes available to all new and expectant parents, program leaders say nearly 12,000 people have signed up on the informational website that is at the heart of the initiative.

BabyBoxUniversity.com includes articles about safe infant sleeping practices as well as information from several states, including New Jersey's safe-sleeping syllabus. By taking about 15 minutes to review the course and complete a short quiz, Garden State parents qualify for a free baby box that serves as a portable crib and comes stocked with infant supplies. They can have it sent to their home or pick it up at locations including Cooper University Hospital.

Putting babies to bed where it isn't safe for them — such as sharing a bed with others, or using a crib full of fluffy bedding — is blamed for many fatalities from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In 2014, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 57 babies died in New Jersey, and 3,500 across the nation, from causes related to their sleep environment.

"One death is too much," and many were likely preventable, said Kathryn McCans, chairwoman of the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board and a driving force behind the new campaign.

With safe-sleep funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 105,000 baby boxes will be available to New Jersey parents. But McCans, a Cooper pediatrician, said she did not believe boxes are the most important part of the campaign.

"I've said to everyone, this program is about getting parents good information so they can make better choices," McCans said. "It's not about the box."

The New Jersey boxes, though, are pretty cute. They have a seashore motif, which a friend of one of McCans' daughters helped design. Made of laminated cardboard and about the size of a bassinet, the boxes are packed with diapers, wipes, breast salve, a baby sleeper, and other materials.

Last spring, Temple University Hospital started its own effort to provide boxes — decorated with owls — and information to mothers of every baby born at the hospital. Leaders of the Baby Box Co. of California, which supplied the boxes and runs the information site, report growing interest around the United States, and are working with two other states that want to start their own programs, said company co-founder and CEO Jennifer Clary.

The website covers breastfeeding, prenatal health, and newborn care, but emphasizes these keys to safe sleeping:

  • Putting babies to sleep on their backs.
  • Providing a firm mattress with a fitted sheet.
  • Having no loose blankets, bumpers, pillows or stuffed animals in babies' cribs or bassinets.

The American Academy of Pediatrics  recommends that infants sleep in a parent's room for at least the first six months and preferably the first year, but in the child's own crib or baby box — never the  parents' beds or a couch or chair. 

Baby boxes have been a common feature in Finland since the 1930s. The infant death rate there declined from 65 per 1,000 in 1938 to 1.3 per 1,000 in recent years. In the U.S., it is 6 deaths per 1,000.