When I first heard about the "Baby Box", I wondered what it would entail.
When I found out that it was basically a starter kit of supplies for new parents, I thought…that's a cute idea.
I researched more and learned it's not just a sweet gesture – it's serious business. Potentially a matter of life or death for a newborn.
The boxes contain a lot of the material essentials an infant needs including: clothes, a towel, a quilt, diapers, bibs, a book, and a toy. But most important is the box itself, which contains a mattress and can be used as the baby's first crib.
While most Americans have never heard of the concept, the boxes have been in existence since 1938 when the Finnish government developed them in an effort to reduce an alarmingly high infant mortality rate among low-income families. Within a few years, there was a significant drop in the number of infant deaths and marked improvements in children's health.
It's such a simple idea. It costs so little. It saves lives. And finally, others are catching on. South Africa, Zambia, Colombia, Argentina, and Southeast Asia are planning projects to replicate the Finnish success story.
In Canada, the University of Calgary is launching a study to see if parents in Alberta can also benefit from the boxes. But they're adding something very important – a personal touch. A few months before their due dates, parents-to-be will be invited to pick up the Baby Boxes at government run Parent Link Centers which provide on-going support and resources for all parents. While there, they'll be paired with a "parent mentor" from their neighborhood.
Lead researcher, Karen Benzies, PhD, told the Calgary Herald she hopes this will help parents gain their footing during a time of transition. "New babies require a lot of attention, and it can be overwhelming and isolating to suddenly be responsible for another human life," she said. It's especially true for mothers struggling with postpartum depression.
There's even a small American project in Bexar County Texas where each year more and more parents are losing their newborns to sudden infant death. In January, University Health System unveiled a pilot study testing the use of Baby Boxes. "A lot of people put very fluffy blankets around the baby," said Cynthia Blanco, MD, a neonatologist at University Health System, in an interview with a local news station. "Once they start getting covered in their faces they can suffocate."
Blanco said the rate of sudden infant death has increased each year in Bexar County since 2009. The vast majority of cases involve infants suffocating in blankets, crib bumpers, stuffed animals, or getting crushed by parents who roll on top of them in their sleep.
This is a tiny project in a small town funded by the local Rotary Club which will provide 135 baby boxes to low income parents. But that's not enough. Not in America, which had a higher infant mortality rate than any of 27 other countries listed as wealthy.
A baby born to a low income family in the United States is nearly three times as likely to die during their first year of life as one born in Finland or Japan. That same American baby is about twice as likely to die in her first year as a Spanish or Korean one.
Despite healthcare spending levels that are significantly higher than any other country in the world, a baby born in the U.S. is less likely to see his first birthday than one born in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Belarus, or Cuba. This is a national disgrace. Something needs to be done. And it doesn't need to be expensive. It could be a Baby Box and connecting new parents to more experienced ones.
Now you're probably wondering if you can get a baby box in the U.S. Baby Box Co. offers them ranging from a basic box with some accessories to a box chock full of items for baby and mother.