Baby boxes first appeared in Finland in the 1930s. Since then, the idea spread to the U.K. -- even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge received one while expecting their first child. Now, the trend is taking off in the U.S.
The reason? It’s not just because babies look adorable sleeping in the cardboard containers (although they do). Turns out, the boxes are an effective way to reduce the risk of infant death due to sleep-related causes, such as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
It sounds almost too simple an idea, but it’s paid off: In Finland, the program helped the country reach one of the lowest infant death rates in the world. In the U.S., SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants less than 12 months old, claiming the lives of about 1,500 babies per year.
“A ‘baby box’ can help new parents have a simple solution of where the baby should sleep,” says Hansa Bhargava, MD, WebMD medical editor and expert pediatrician. “The AAP recommends that the best place for a baby to sleep until 6 months of age is in the same room (but not the same bed) as the parents, which may reduce the risk of SIDS.” With this box, it’s easier for parents to make that happen. Plus, because it’s easy to take around, it can also be used for naps and playtime, Bhargava points out.
Each box is made of certified nontoxic cardboard and comes with a mattress and fitted sheet. Some versions also arrive with infant care essentials like diapers, baby wipes, clothing, and more, though all objects should be removed when the baby is inside the box. “Babies should always sleep on their back with no other items in the box,” Bhargava says.
One company in the U.S. is following in the footsteps of the Finnish tradition of giving them away for free. In 2017, the Baby Box Co. is giving away 105,000 boxes to expectant parents in New Jersey, after partnering with the New Jersey Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, which found that 93% of SIDS deaths in the state were directly related to sleep environments. They’ve launched a similar program in San Francisco, where parents of 13,000 newborns will receive a free Baby Box in 2017. (The boxes are also sold online, starting at $69.99.)
The catch: Parents have to pass an online education program on infant health and safety before they register for a box. After that, they have free access to the website, where they can find tips and advice for raising newborns.
But this isn’t just an extra; it’s a necessary part of keeping your infant healthy, Bhargava says. “What I really like about this specific box is that it creates an easy way for parents to learn about how to take care of their babies. Parenting can be challenging, and any education can help prevent injuries and illness and keep baby healthy.”