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State of Opportunity will be shining a spotlight on the issue of infant mortality this winter. Check back for news, resources, and personal stories.

Here's why more babies in the U.S. are sleeping in boxes

Baby sitting in box
Donnie Ray Jones / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Last year I told you about babies in Finland sleeping in boxes. It's a program Finland's government started in 1938 that provides all expectant moms with a maternity box filled with clothes, bedding, and baby products and accessories, along with a mattress to go in the bottom of the box to create a safe first bed for baby to sleep in.

Now that concept is gaining popularity here in the U.S. This week, Alabama will begin partnering with the California-based Baby Box Company to join Ohio and New Jersey in making baby boxes available to the families of all newborns, according to NPR.

Although the contents of the boxes in the U.S. are similar to Finland – onesies, breastfeeding accessories, a mattress and tight-fitting sheet – the goal of the programs are slightly different. While moms in Finland have to get early prenatal care to be eligible for the boxes, the goal of the programs in the U.S. is to continue spreading the message about infant safe sleep.

To be eligible for the boxes, parents in the U.S. have to watch videos onlineabout SIDS and safe sleep and complete a short quiz. Then, they can pick the box up from a distribution center or have it mailed to their home.

A cardboard box and display of baby accessories
Credit Finnish Baby Box
The contents of one of Finland's baby boxes

Kathryn McCans is chair of New Jersey's Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board. She told NPR:

The whole premise is that people like free things. It's about getting the information out there. Through education and awareness, people can make better choices and hopefully we can see fewer children dying.

Finnish experts credit baby boxes with significantly lowering the country's infant mortality rate. When the baby box was introduced, nearly 10% of all Finnish children died before reaching their first birthday. Today, the infant mortality rate has fallen to – one of the lowest in the world.

The hope is that the boxes will have a similar effect in the U.S., but research is still scarce. Patricia Gabbe is a clinical professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She told Fox News:

We’ve looked at these boxes for the last year. They’re good in the sense that it sends the right message that the baby should sleep without accouterments: no blankets, stuffed animals or baby bumpers. We need more research that looks at their effectiveness, especially in urban cities. We support anything that will help save a baby’s life, but there haven’t been safety studies that we need.

Dr. Kristi Watterberg, chair of the Academy of Pediatrics' committee on the fetus and newborn, told NPRshe applauds the effort but is concerned about the videos taking place of prenatal care and the process being too complicated for those who need the education most.

The people who can really benefit from this are those who don't have any clue what you need when you take a baby home. They don't have the social structure to support them. These are the moms who most need what's in that box and the box itself.

So, what are some other ways to reduce the risk of sudden infant deaths?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released updated sleep guidelines that recommend sharing a room – but not a bed – with baby for at least the first six months, but optimally for a year. The AAP found sharing a room could reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related infant deaths by as much as 50%. 

And my colleague Dustin Dwyer told you previously about the importance of following the ABCs of safe sleep: All babies should sleep alone, on their back and in an empty crib.

About 3,500 infants die in the U.S. every year from sleep-related deaths, including SIDS, according to the AAP. Anything that can help reduce this number seems worth trying.

Check out a short video below of how Finnish baby boxes are packed.

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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