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.
A U.S. company is following in the Finnish tradition of giving away these potentially life-saving boxes. In January 2017, the California-based Baby Box Co. launched a program in New Jersey to provide more than 100,000 boxes for free to expectant and new mothers.
In March 2017, Ohio became the second state to offer free boxes from the Baby Box Co., thanks to support from hospitals and nonprofits. The state has recently seen an uptick in infant mortality rate, which is 7.2 per 1,000 live births -- about 21% higher than the rest of the country.
Similar programs are launching in Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and San Antonio, TX, as well as parts of Canada. The company has plans to expand to more cities. (Soon-to-be parents in any city can still purchase boxes online.)
The only catch: Before registering to receive a free box, parents have to pass an online education program on infant health and safety. After that, they have free access to the website, where they can find tips and advice for raising newborns.
That part plays a big role in 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.”