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As the Bible tells it, a virgin mother and her husband notably made due with just the modest means available to them to swaddle their newborn son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)
Not much was known in biblical times about prenatal care or safe sleep practices that can reduce the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Had he been born in modern times — in Finland, for instance — the baby Jesus may have been placed in a utilitarian cardboard box. Rather than gold, frankincense and myrrh, the gifts of the Magi more likely would have been diapers, wipes, and onesies.
Some 80 years ago, in order to address its record high infant mortality, the government of Finland began providing “baby boxes” to families with newborns. Expectant mothers in Finland have to meet just one condition before receiving the free boxes. They have to have at least one prenatal examination within the first four months of their pregnancies.
The coveted, cheerful boxes contain a manner of necessities for a baby’s first year of life, including clothing, hooded bath towel, bib, teething toy — and a thin foam mattress shaped to the box that can serve as a bassinet for the baby in its first few months.
The baby boxes continue to be a huge success in Finland, which now has achieved one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. And the practice is beginning to catch on in places like the England and the United States. So far, New Jersey, Ohio, and Alabama are among the first states to implement their own safe sleep box programs based on the Finnish model. In general, the states are using the program less as a prenatal incentive and more to educate families about safe sleep practices.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3,500 babies are lost to sleep-related syndromes every year. The risk of SIDS is greatest between the ages of 2-4 months. Many parents, particularly in lower-income families, often sleep with their baby in the same bed with them, a practice that experts strongly discourage. These parents may not be able to afford a crib or bassinet, or they simply may not know about the risks that bed-sharing, or co-sleeping, poses to their infants. Safe sleep boxes are portable and more affordable than cribs. They are an excellent tool for educating parents about safe sleep practices and good parenting.
So far, feedback on the free boxes in the U.S. has been positive. Women who have received a baby box have expressed appreciation. One told National Public Radio: “You don’t have to research; you don’t have to text a friend. You just know it’s a safe place” to put your newborn to sleep.
As the practice continues to gain support, we may one day see safe sleep baby boxes delivered to celebrate every family’s blessed event.
This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.
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