Bringing a baby home for the first time is a momentous occasion. For many parents, however, it’s also a time of stress. Infants less than 1 year old are vulnerable to sudden and unexpected complications that can be fatal. In many cases, these situations are preventable with a bit of education and precaution, especially when it comes to sleeping. That’s where the baby box comes in!
In January 2017, New Jersey took a page from Finland’s book and became the first U.S. state to launch a universal baby box program for new and expecting mothers. Read on to learn more about the history of these innovative packages and how you can get one for yourself or a loved one preparing for their first baby.
Baby boxes are simple cardboard boxes that have been distributed to new moms in Finland since the 1930s. An inexpensive crib, they offer babies a safe place to sleep and a whole lot more. The boxes come stuffed with essentials like diapers and clothes.
Baby boxes first emerged in Finland in the 1930s as part of the Maternity Grants Act of 1937. The act came in response to an alarming infant mortality rate — at its highest, nearly 1 in 10 children died under the age of 1. The boxes were originally intended only for low-income mothers. Since then, Finland’s infant mortality rate, like that in much of the world, has plummeted, and now the country’s infant mortality rate is only 2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Baby boxes are designed to be safe and comfortable places for babies to sleep on their backs and breathe freely.
With such success, the program has since expanded. Starting in 1949, the grant was made available to all moms in Finland, regardless of income. Permanent residents of Finland, as well as people who moved there for work from within the European Union, plus their family members, are all eligible to apply for the grant.
According to Kela, Finland’s social security benefits provider, some 60,000 maternity grants are provided each year. Parents have the option to apply for a maternity package (a baby box) or for a €140 cash grant, but most first-time mothers opt for the baby box.
The contents of the maternity package change regularly, but at a minimum include: the box, a blanket, clothes (including winter wear) and onesies, linens, a bath towel, cloth diapers, bibs, personal care items (including a thermometer, nail scissors, and condoms), a cuddly toy, and a book.
With decades of success in Finland, baby box programs are popping up around the world, including Scotland, Argentina, and now the United States. New Jersey is the first state to offer free baby boxes to expectant mothers.
The New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board (CFNFRB) is behind the program, with support from the Los Angeles-based Baby Box Company, which has partnered with a dozen countries to launch programs like Finland’s. The Baby Box Company also provides education and resources through its Baby Box University, an online repository of parenting education guides, videos, articles, and more.
In New Jersey’s case, Baby Box University also serves as the registration site for parents to receive a box. Parents must watch a short educational video, complete a quiz, and obtain a certificate of completion in order to request a baby box. The Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative is helping to distribute boxes by setting up pickup sites in the southern part of the state, though more locations are likely to become available as the statewide initiative picks up speed.
According to the New Jersey CFNFRB, of the 61 sudden unexpected deaths in infants under 1 year old, 93 percent were related to sleep or sleep environment. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep on their backs until they reach 1 year of age. AAP also states that babies should be placed on a firm sleep surface with a fitted sheet and no pillows or other soft bedding, which could cause suffocation. AAP notes that a large percentage of babies who die of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) are found with their heads covered, blocking their ability to breathe. For the same reason, it is not recommended that parents share their bed with their baby. A baby box allows the child to sleep close to his or her parents on a safe surface with room to breathe.
Not only are baby box programs being picked up by national and state government agencies, hospitals are also starting their own programs to provide care packages for new parents. Philadelphia-based Temple University Hospital launched an initiative last spring to bring baby boxes to the estimated 3,000 infants born at Temple every year. Their version of the baby box includes the typical amenities (mattress, linens, diapers, clothes, etc.) as well as a smoke detector and access to a mobile app with resources for new parents. Unlike New Jersey’s boxes, Temple’s boxes are largely supported by individual donors, and the program will run as long as there are funds available (you can donate to support the program here).
If you are expecting or know someone who is and would like a box, several companies offer them for sale to direct consumers. The Baby Box Company’s boxes start at $70, though they also sell clothing and linens separately. There’s also Finnish Baby Box, a company founded by three Finnish dads eager to spread the comfort of the traditional Finnish baby box. Although pricier (the original box starts at $449), the box boasts a variety of products mimicking the contents of the traditional box.
With the baby box craze booming, keep an eye out for safe sleep programs at your local health centers.