The Finnish baby box concept is nothing new, as the country’s government gives away thousands of these cribs alternatives each year. Now, it appears that more states are introducing these boxes and distributing them to parents, in an effort to reduce the chances of babies dying from SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome.
An NPR report looked at the case of a New Jersey woman named Jernica Quinones, a mother of five who became aware of SIDS when a friend of hers had woken up on New Year’s Day to find her baby daughter had died in her sleep. That prompted Quinones to take part in a New Jersey initiative that distributes baby boxes as an alternative to bassinets.
Explaining why she took part in the program, Quinones suggested that her financial situation had convinced her to give it a try.
“Some mothers can’t buy a Pack-n-Play or a crib.”
NPR wrote that New Jersey’s program is based on the Finnish baby box, or maternity package program, a campaign where the government gives these boxes, as well as baby clothing, blankets, and other items to expectant mothers following their prenatal checkup. However, there is a bit of a “twist” to the campaign in the U.S., as the boxes are given away as a means for parents to keep their infants safe from the risk of SIDS.
Aside from New Jersey and Ohio, Alabama will be giving away baby boxes free of charge to any family that has a newborn child. The mechanics of the program require parents to watch online videos on SIDS, then take a questionnaire based on what they had watched in the videos. After completing the quiz, they can head to their nearest distribution center to pick up the box, or request that it be mailed to them. Included with the box is a durable foam mattress and a snug bed sheet, plus baby clothing, diapers, wipes, and breastfeeding accessories.
NPR wrote that Ohio is leading the way with about 140,000 free baby boxes to give away, followed by New Jersey with 105,000 and Alabama with 60,000.
As for the Finnish baby box program, the New York Times wrote in 2016 that it is considered one of the reasons why Finland has a very low infant mortality rate – as of last year, it was at 2.52 per 1,000 births, or less than half the U.S. figure. The Finnish government gives away approximately 40,000 boxes per year, all complete with bedding, baby clothes, and a baby balaclava to shield infants from the chilly winter climate of the region.
The New York Times report added that the program has been in place for close to eight decades, and was started at a time when the infant mortality rate in Finland was at a whopping one out of every ten babies.
According to New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board chair Dr. Kathryn McCans, whose organization teamed up with California company Baby Box Co. to distribute the boxes in the Garden State, the program is attractive because “people like free things,” yet also worthwhile as it helps educate parents about SIDS and its dangers. Although the average 3,500 unexpected infant deaths a year figure in the U.S. is historically low, NPR wrote that there has been a “slight uptick” in this statistic in recent years.
“Through education and awareness, people can make better choices and hopefully we can see fewer children dying,” said McCans.
Still, the program doesn’t come without some critical comments from experts. Dr. Kristy Watterberg of the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the state-based initiatives are commendable, but potentially risky, as all the information contained in the videos and the mechanics required to get the baby boxes may be too much to handle for the mothers most in need of the program. She also expressed concern that the videos may be used in lieu of good old fashioned prenatal care, which is often cited as the most important tool in ensuring a baby’s health.
“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.”
As the Finnish baby box program began in the late 1930s, the U.S. still appears far behind its European counterpart in terms of offering these boxes to mothers. But as the aforementioned New Jersey mother Jernica Quinones told NPR, the program seems to have a lot of promise, as it’s taught her a lot about how to avoid SIDS, and helped her convince her sister and a friend to take advantage of it and get baby boxes for their infants.
[Featured Image by Matt Rourke/AP Images]